Haverhill School Committee Decides to Stop Paying for Transportation as Buses Sit Idle

Haverhill school bus. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Correction: Haverhill School Committee members voted not to pay for bus service that isn’t taking place because of the COVID-19, but altered its motions to make it clear it does not intend to terminate its contracts with providers.

The Haverhill School Committee decided last night to stop paying for school buses that are not in service as a result of school closings during the COVID-19 crisis.

Haverhill schools will save $720,000 alone for the cost of standard “big bus” service. It will also save on fuel costs. Members rejected a proposal from contractor NRT to pay for 95 percent of the contract—or 92.5% if paid now. Committee member Richard J. Rosa, a member of the Transportation subcommittee, explained the difference in savings.

“At 100% of the remaining ‘big bus’ contract, is about $720,000. If we paid it at 92.5%, it’s $666,000. So, a savings of about $54,000,” he said.

Other savings are also expected. Rosa explained the city has three different types of transportation agreements. Besides standard school buses, NRT provides special education transportation, and there are several smaller companies for out-of-district and homeless students. The smaller companies do not have contracts with the city. He said the cost for the out-of-district and homeless transportation alone is nearly $1.9 million per year and that by discontinuing payments for the rest of the year, Haverhill would save about $600,000.

NRT President John J. McCarthy told school administrators Haverhill currently pays the lowest rate in the state for busing and said he cannot promise laid off drivers would be available when school resumes.

Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti responded that the federal government already has programs in place to help cover those types of expenses. One of them, the Paycheck Protection Program, is designed to help small businesses keep employees on the payroll. He said there is at least one other program as well.

“In addition to the PPP Program is the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan program), the disaster loan program, which is much more money and over a longer period of time and covers a lot of the expenses that the PPP program doesn’t. So, based on the fact that both of these programs are out there, why should we pay them any more moving forward when that is what these funds are for?” He asked.

Fellow committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. also asked how other school districts have addressed this issue. Assistant School Superintendent Michael Pfifferling said that most of the smaller districts have not made a final decision yet but that the larger districts had.

“Chelmsford has said that they are not paying their contract. They’ve decided to do a zero. That’s a superintendent’s decision and he has the support of his school committee, it sounds like. I am also hearing, although I did not speak with Lowell. Lowell is a big district and they have reported that they are not paying their contract for NRT,” he said.

After considerable discussion, the committee members decided, in the interest of fairness to Haverhill’s taxpayers, they should not pay for services not delivered after April 1.

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