Bus Drivers Win... Or Did They?

The new school year started this week, as did the familiar sight of big yellow buses crisscrossing the Mountaintop landscape. But these are not the buses the Crestwood School Board bargained for when they awarded a 5-year Transportation Contract May 12, 2016 which would have saved the taxpayers a half million dollars. That contract was awarded to the newly formed Mountaintop Bus Company owned by Mountaintop resident and businessman Kevin Foley. Now the taxpayers are back to more of the same at a higher cost, since the contract was awarded back to Rinehimer Bus Lines just four days before the start of classes.

When dealing with taxpayers’ money, the contract should be awarded to the company that proposes the best deal for the services needed. In this case it was Foley as opposed to the Rinehimer Bus Lines. Scott Henry purchased Deets-Rinehimer Bus Line at the bankruptcy auction in July 2013 liquidating former owner Ed Deets business assets. Henry, the owner of Rinehimer and the Martz Group assumed the contract signed by Deets in 2012 and provided Crestwood busing for the past three years. The contract ran until the conclusion of the 2015-2016 school year. Henry offered a proposal to continue his Rinehimer services with 3 percent increases over state reimbursement for the first three years and 5 percent for the final two years. Foley also offered a solid proposal. The majority of his fleet would be new buses and no bus would be more than 3 years old. Foley would provide basic transportation services for Crestwood at the state reimbursement rate. $1.9 million is budgeted for basic transportation in the Crestwood School District budget. A win-win, right?

Wrong. One would have thought the world was coming to an end for the bus drivers. It wasn’t that they were losing their jobs. Foley courted the drivers who had transported the students in the Crestwood District but they snubbed Foley’s offer of a sign on bonus, higher wages, brand new buses, and profit sharing, preferring a lesser deal while remaining steadfast in their loyalty to Henry.

Foley didn’t have much to say publicly after being awarded the contract; instead he preferred to develop his business plan. Then came the rumormongers who filled in the blanks with the most absurd stories from the day Foley was awarded the contract. The rumors were so far fetched that only the drivers believed them… or wanted to. Some were convinced that Foley was the former owner of the Rinehimer Bus Lines and wrote paychecks that bounced when it was Ed Deets, the previous owner of Rinehimer Bus Lines, who filed for bankruptcy in 2011. Foley was never a part of that organization. His accounting firm simply handled the bankruptcy reorganization and liquidation. Many drivers did not seem to want to believe this, then questioning Foley’s ability to succeed in a new business venture. A Certified Public Accountant, Foley found success when he opened Cavanaugh’s Grille in Mountaintop and there was no reason to believe that he would not have been just as successful operating the Mountaintop Bus Company.

The refrain of how much the drivers loved their jobs and the children they served became their mantra, as though all that would change if they had a new employer. It’s doubtful the kids would care, especially if they got to ride in brand new buses. Henry’s fleet had an average age of nine years.

Foley attempted to alleviate the exaggerated fears of drivers and parents regarding his new bus company at the August 18 school board meeting but they wouldn’t hear any of it. Their minds were made up: Foley would fail and Scott Henry would save them. The drivers made sure of that, in part due to Henry’s promise that they would have jobs within his organization, the Martz Group. Drivers were in lockstep and signed a petition to stay with Henry and no, no never would they drive for Foley.

Change is difficult, but change can be better. The drivers were happy where they were, felt safe and secure, and evidently afraid of something new. Companies are bought and sold everyday, employees have to adapt to new circumstances, new protocols, and new bosses but that’s the way of the world. Loyalty is a good thing but it can also be misplaced.

A disappointed Foley announced last week that he could not fulfill his contractual obligation; not because he didn’t have a brand new fleet of buses which were parked in the Crestwood High School parking lot, not because he didn’t have more efficient routes that would decrease the students’ travel time, and certainly not because he didn’t have confidence in the Mountaintop Bus Company but because he could not get enough qualified drivers to work for him. The drivers he did manage to get pulled out under pressure from their colleagues.

Now the drivers will have less money and so will the taxpayers since the school board has given the contract back to Rinehimer. What else could the board do? The drivers’ refusal to work for Foley worked. But not work for Foley based on what? Certainly not facts, jealously maybe, or some dreamt up fantasy of a backroom deal.

Whatever nonsense it was will now cost the district $60,000 plus more per year, a total of $326,312 over Rinehimer’s new 5-year contract. Henry did agree to take only a 3% increase over the state’s reimbursement over the five years, which is a little less than what he originally wanted.

Naturally the Rinehimer contract will have to be budgeted in some way, maybe with some program cuts, maybe even kindergarten or extracurricular activities will have to be eliminated. The money has to come from somewhere. Guess the drivers either didn’t think or care about that.