BAR HARBOR — A single bus system for the public schools on Mount Desert Island and Trenton Elementary School could increase efficiency, reduce costs and have other advantages, according to MDI Regional School System (MDIRSS) officials.
The MDIRSS board last week asked Superintendent Howard Colter to prepare what he calls a “full-blown proposal” for a system-wide transportation service. He said Monday that he hopes to have the proposal ready for the board to consider in January or February.
Currently, MDI High School and three of the system’s elementary schools – Mount Desert, Pemetic in Southwest Harbor, and Tremont – operate their own, separate bus systems. Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor and Trenton Elementary have contracts with Cyr Bus Lines. Colter said those contracts expire in June 2017.
“While it probably would be possible to get out of a contract early, normally there’s a penalty,” he said. “I think it might make more sense to simply wait until those two contracts sunset.”
Each town in the school system is responsible for busing its students to the high school. MDI High pays for transporting students for extra-curricular activities, field trips and to the Hancock County Technical Center in Ellsworth.
The total transportation budgets of MDIRSS schools for the 2013-2014 school year were: MDI High, $196,231; Conners Emerson, $250,450; Pemetic, $132,524; Mount Desert, $129,941; Tremont, $128,778; Trenton, $119,250; and Swans Island, $98,223. The Swans Island school committee provides transportation for students on the island and contracts with a private individual to drive the island’s high school students to and from the ferry terminal in Bass Harbor every day.
In addition to the possibility of saving money, Colter said a centralized bus system might reduce the amount of time that some students spend riding a bus.
He said it also might increase driver retention, especially for the two schools that currently contract for bus services and typically have higher driver turnover rates. Drivers who remain on the job for a number of years “get to know the community and the kids, and that gives a lot of comfort to the parents,” Colter said.
One issue that would need to be worked out is an equitable sharing of funding for a common bus system.
“Because Bar Harbor and Trenton have a contract, they have not been putting money aside to replace buses,” Colter said. “The other schools have to buy buses every so many years. So, if we’re going to have a system-wide transportation department, we need to figure out how Bar Harbor and Trenton join in and how soon they should start contributing their share.”
While MDI-area communities tend to value their schools’ independence, “There are times when it makes sense to work in a common, consolidated way,” Colter said. “This may be one of those examples.”