Peach school board tables measures to contract busing

FORT VALLEY -- Peach County school board members delayed action Tuesday on a proposal to contract school bus services after concerns were raised about health insurance for drivers.

The vote to table the measure was unanimous. The board is expected to vote on the measure at its Aug. 28 work session.

Mark Watkins, an 11-year employee of the school transportation department, asked board members to abandon the proposal to contract school busing to Durham School Services, based in Warrenville, Ill.

Watkins said he believes he’s speaking for about 70 percent of the transportation employees in opposition of the move. He noted that the private company’s health insurance is subpar to what bus drivers now have under the Peach County schools system.

Watkins, whose wife suffers from an autoimmune disorder, noted that any savings from moving bus drivers under a contracted service likely will come from “the backs of employees’ benefits.”

He noted that 50 percent of the transportation employees have worked for the school system for more than 10 years.

Transportation employees would receive the same pay under the change.

Mark Herington, Durham’s director of business development, told the board that as long as bus drivers did not work over 30 hours a week, the health care coverage would be sufficient to meet concerns.

He said he believes bus drivers do not work more than 30 hours each week.

He estimated that the school system will save about $1.5 million over five years with the change, which will include the addition of 38 new buses with GPS systems.

Board member Donald Williams asked Herington for the company to come back with a better offer in regard to health benefits for drivers.

“I know the value of good health care,” Williams said. “And you cannot put a price on health care.”

Herington told the board that he could not offer any more than what’s on the table -- noting that the health package is the same offered to all drivers it employs nationwide.

Vice chairman Ben McDaniel noted skyrocketing health insurance costs that may require the board to opt out of providing health insurance to drivers in a few years anyway.

With limited funds, Robert Hammack noted that he and fellow board members may be called upon to make unpopular decisions such as raising taxes or operating more efficiently in order to provide the best education possible to students.

Students return to Peach County schools Sept. 4, with the school start having been delayed two weeks due to a systemwide heating, ventilation and air conditioning installation.

In other action, the board approved a $3 million tax anticipation note to cover basic operating expenditures for the current school year at an interest rate of 1.33 percent.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.