FRAMINGHAM - As community members continue to deal with the fallout of school bus driver shortages locally, the Framingham School Committee has begun to investigate what it would cost to bring transportation operations under the city’s watch.
The committee met on November 15, as Executive Director of Finance and Operations for Framingham Public Schools Lincoln Lynch presented an overview of how much it could cost to conduct school bus driving through an in-house option as opposed to continuing their partnership with NRT Bus Inc., the company currently contracted to carry out bus transportation.
Students and families across the city are still feeling the impact of a lack of bus drivers. Lynch noted that the school district remains 20 drivers short of what their contract with NRT calls for, adding that they are now officially exploring alternative possibilities for the next school year and beyond.
Lynch’s projections showed that if NRT is kept around, the fiscal year 2025 budget would include a cost of $8.6 million. That same model showed that the cost would be around $9.3 million if the district operated busing itself. For that in-house system, the cost for the schools would be nearly $6.9 million, while the city would pay close to $2.5 million.
Lynch reiterated multiple times to the School Committee that those figures were determined with what he called an “all-in” focus on yellow school buses, meaning the highest anticipated costs were accounted for. It included full benefits for drivers and all other related staff members as well as operations during the summer and additional hiring incentives. The in-house plan featured costs for a total of 84 buses: 77 would be leased for 180 school days, while three would be used for local athletics and four would be on standby as spare vehicles. During the summer, 20 buses would be leased.
Lynch said that benefits for drivers could be a big draw if the city decides to bring bus operations under their umbrella, as workforce shortages have been cited by NRT as a major obstacle for properly staffing bus routes.
“The idea is to be as attractive as possible,” Lynch explained, “so if we can cover some costs for training and things like that, I think Framingham would be the ideal spot to come.”
In turn with Lynch’s city-operated plan presented to the School Committee, Framingham officials are now inviting bids for school buses to be leased. Dispatch and driving services would be retained by the city, but Lynch believes a better prices for bus leasing services can be had. Bids would be active for a three-year period starting July 1 of next year.
Lynch, who added that he was not aware of any costs related to breaking off of the NRT agreement, emphasized that these proposals were simply the start of a larger conversation on how the district can move forward on this matter.
“Just know that things can change,” Lynch continued.
“We can look at a more realistic number of how many drivers we really think that we’re going to hire for next year due to the driver shortage.”
Many School Committee members voiced their intentions to ensure that factors such as hiring contingencies, taxpayers costs, and environmental impacts are all fleshed out before giving the in-house plan the green light. Still, members such as Adam Freudberg of District 6 expressed optimism for a locally-based system over the current NRT agreement.
“For those who have been involved in the busing crisis since 2018, or those who are brand new, this is our opportunity,” Freudberg said.
In the interim, Lynch said that Framingham Public Schools would continue to work with NRT this year to resolve busing troubles.
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