Superintendent Jason McCandless said the school district spends less per student on transporation than comparable municipalities.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The first of a newly purchased fleet of school buses arrived this week, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless told the city's Public School Committee on Wednesday.
The school bus purchase proved controversial this year, failing by one vote in the first of two votes
and narrowly passing on the second
, but McCandless defended the district's choice to maintain its own bus fleet amidst some level of public criticism.
"I continue to hear that people are really troubled by the fact that we didn't just move to privatize the buses, and go out and contract with a company," said McCandless.
Citing data available through the Department of Education, McCandless said Pittsfield manages transportation at a per-student cost that is much lower than the county or state average.
Pittsfield's average annual transportation cost per student comes out to $261, McCandless noted, compared to expenditures in other small cities, such as $634 in Chicopee, $520 in Marlborough or $630 in Taunton.
"The state average across the commonwealth is that it costs, for each student in your school system, $483 per year. The city of Pittsfield does it for $261," stated McCandless, who said the Berkshire County average is $699, even excluding the most rural local systems that run much higher average mileage per student.
McCandless acknowledged that this price does not include health insurance and retirement costs, which are paid for out of the city's budget.
"I would dare say more careful analysis would suggest that even including those costs on an annual basis, the way we do bus operations is still an economically very wise way to do bus operations," McCandless told the committee. "If you add in the flexibility and the ability to do things that serve our city and serve our students and families, there's no comparison between having a private contractor and doing it ourselves."
The superintendent said pushback on privatizing the bus operations is "a reoccurring theme," but not necessarily one that is supported by data.
"We're 300 or 400 less per pupil per year than these comparable school districts," McCandless added. "I think that's worthy of noting, because I think that the School Committee made a good decision in moving forward with this purchase, and I'm grateful to the City Council for confirming that decision."
The superintendent said the new buses and the district's transportation operations should nonetheless undergo some review over the next three years, prior to the new buses hitting their half-life point.