WALLINGFORD — School administrators have reached a deal with the district’s bus contractor to pay a fraction of its transportation contract, saving the town approximately $900,000 for the period when schools have been closed due to the coronavirus.
The negotiations between the district and Durham School Services reduced the amount the town will be paying from $1.3 million to approximately $372,000 for the 55 days schools will have been closed by the end of the year.
Wallingford Schools Business Manager Dominic Barone said that number was reached after discussions with Durham in which the company broke down its expenses to show what the daily rate the district pays goes toward.
“They were open to the discussion … it was always a cordial discussion between us,” Barone said.
Durham had originally asked for 90.9 percent of the daily rate, which spokesperson Edward Flavin said the company was disappointed not to receive
“This agreement covers a portion of fixed costs pertaining to our personnel salaries and operational costs associated with upkeep for our facility,” he said.
The company is continuing to provide healthcare insurance to its furloughed drivers and has encouraged them to apply for unemployment.
The Board of Education approved the addendum to the contract with Durham School Services during its May 29 meeting, where board members also selected Durham to be the district’s transportation contractor for next year as well.
Board Chairperson Karen Hlavac said it was important that the district negotiate an amicable agreement for both sides with the company since it will continue to bus children next year, while also keeping in mind the board’s obligations to taxpayers.
“From my perspective with the Board of Education, we needed to make sure that we negotiated with the terms that we thought were in the best interest of the school district and of course by extension the town,” she said.
The agreement comes after weeks of the district projecting that it will not have to pay any of the contract, a position other superintendents described as untenable to elected officials in their own municipalities. They pointed to Gov. Ned Lamont’s Executive Order 7R stating that municipalities and school districts are required to continue “to make payments to transportation providers so that they may compensate their active employees and provide them health insurance.”
Barone said the district’s expected surplus is still large enough that he does not anticipate having to pay $372,000 toward the busing contract will endanger any of the outlays the Board of Education has already approved using the excess funds.
That includes a $1 million giveback to the municipal government — earmarked by Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. to offset a tax increase, $586,000 capital projects like replacing computers, $365,000 to keep the food distribution program running, and $400,000 for curriculum materials. Taken together, that leaves approximately $737,000 in surplus funds after the payment to Durham is taken into account.
Hlavac said having some unbudgeted funds will be crucial for purchasing personal protective equipment and other supplies in the fall should schools be permitted to reopen.
“If it's decided that they’ll return to the actual school building, keeping in mind distancing and all the measures that are in place, there are going to be costs that are incurred,” she said.