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Inking a Revamped Bus Deal

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 13:08
The Sagaponack School District will pay more this year to have its children bused on Sag Harbor district buses.
Christine Sampson

The Sag Harbor and Sagaponack School Districts have renewed a contract to share busing services again come September, but the agreement looks a bit different from the one signed about a year ago.

Not only does the new contract reflect a price increase for Sagaponack, which will use Sag Harbor as its primary provider of school buses, but at least one other component has been introduced: a Chevrolet Fleet Suburban sport-utility vehicle school bus, which Sag Harbor will use to pick up and drop off some of Sagaponack’s children.

The purchase of the S.U.V. emerged as a controversial issue among some Sag Harbor community members during budget season earlier this year. During public presentations, Katy Graves, the district superintendent, suggested that an S.U.V.-type school bus would be useful also for Sag Harbor’s transportation program, but several residents questioned whether there was a true need.

Sag Harbor voters, in May, approved a ballot proposition allowing the district to buy the S.U.V. at a cost of about $74,921.

Jordana Sobey, Sag Harbor’s school board president, explained this week that the district would buy the S.U.V. using a reserve designated for buses. She said Sagaponack would be paying two-thirds of the cost of the new vehicle, at a rate of $16,649 a year for three years. The two districts’ busing contract is for one year.

“If the contract is renewed for two subsequent years, then over the course of the full three years Sagaponack’s contribution would be” about $49,947, Ms. Sobey said by email.

Sagaponack will also pay for an additional bus driver to operate the S.U.V.

According to Alan Van Cott, Sagaponack’s superintendent, the new contract “addresses the issue of student safety by moving bus stops for Sagaponack School students away from Montauk Highway. It also addresses the needs of Sagaponack taxpayers, as this agreement saves money.”

“We are pleased to have this opportunity to continue working with the Sag Harbor [School District] in a collaborative and cooperative manner,” he said in an email. “Exploring ways to share services and minimize costs is most important. This agreement underscores this essential theme.”

The Sag Harbor School Board on Monday voted 5 to 0 to approve the contract, with two of its members, Diana Kolhoff and Yorgos Tsibiridis, absent from the special meeting that had been announced three days earlier.

According to the contract, Sagaponack will pay Sag Harbor $162,637 to transport all of its students, including busing to East Hampton schools, private schools, Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services programs, and others. The cost to Sagaponack rose 2.5 percent from last year. A termination clause says either district can end the agreement with 60 days’ notice. Sag Harbor may be required to refund part of the money to Sagaponack at the close of its annual audit, if it is deemed the smaller district overpaid for services. The contract is for 10 months beginning in September.

“The Sagaponack transportation contract that we approved today is yet another example of a shared services contract with a neighboring district to work together and maximize efficiencies,” Ms. Sobey said by email on Monday. “We hope the continuation of this agreement will work to benefit both communities for many years to come.”

Sagaponack’s school board approved the contract last Thursday, 2 to 0, with its president, Cathy Hatgistavrou, absent. Its special meeting was announced 24 hours earlier with a notice at the Sagaponack Post Office and the school.

Another transportation-related issue also arose over the course of the two districts’ negotiations: the training of school bus drivers to identify and report potential child abuse.

A recent change in state law prompted school districts to add bus drivers to the list of school employees who are trained to do so, and Sagaponack revised its policy book accordingly. However, during a July 1 school board meeting, Mr. Van Cott and the Sagaponack board members expressed concern that Sag Harbor had not yet formally modified its own policy. The statewide change does not officially go into effect for a few more months.

Ms. Sobey said a training session on that topic for all staff, including bus drivers, would take place before school starts, on a day reserved for such purposes.

That appeared to settle the matter for Sagaponack. “All concerns have been addressed,” Mr. Van Cott said.


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