The Rockville Centre Board of Education announced on June 20 that it decided to renew the district’s contract with Baumann Bus Company, which went on strike last year, rather than opting to go through a rebidding process.
The one-year contract renewal includes a 2.2 percent increase from last year — the maximum amount allowed — and closed off the opportunity for other companies, such as the Guardian Bus Company, whose drivers provided service while Baumann’s workers were on strike, to bid.
“We were so surprised they would not even consider a bid,” said Billy Nelson, a longtime driver for Baumann before the strike who now said he happily works for Guardian. He showed up at the meeting with seven of his colleagues to let the board know they were disappointed of the district’s decision.
Last November, drivers from Baumann stopped transporting students from Rockville Centre and other neighboring communities for two weeks as they called for “guaranteed weeks” — to ensure consistent five-day paychecks — to be included in their contracts. Guardian drivers filled in, and the district ultimately terminated its contract with Baumann.
The district brought Baumann back under contract in December, however, after a bidding period during which Baumann’s submission was accepted over Guardian, which had a lower but “incomplete” bid, according to the district’s lawyers.
Guardian’s proposal last year did not include all the pricing for their routes as requested, so it was disqualified, said Robert Bartels, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and personnel. He added that both proposals were evaluated and that the price difference was “inconsequential” and said that Baumann had newer buses and more favorable inspections records.
“I don’t think we would lose with either company,” Bartels said. He noted that Baumann’s service over the last several months has been “very good” and that the board has had no complaints since they took over after the strike.
Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson pointed out that the schools’ priorities are overall service and the age of the buses — not only cost — and added that he appreciated Guardian’s help when the district was in need.
Nelson said Guardian was not given the chance by the board to purchase new buses and get newer inspections done, but noted that they would regroup and try for the contract next year.
“They made a decision and we’re not happy with it,” he said, “but I guess we’ll see what happens.”