The St. Mary’s public school’s transportation department is adding $405,150 to the county bus drivers’ health fund trust.
Jeff Thompson, the school system’s director of transportation, requested that amount to be approved by the school board during a Wednesday meeting. The St. Mary’s County School Bus Contractors Heath and Welfare Trust was created in 2003 through a collaboration with the school system and the School Bus Contractors Association. It allowed full-time contracted bus drivers and attendants to buy health insurance.
There are 163 contracted regular route buses and 28 contracted special-needs route buses for the county’s public schools. The bus contractors association determines the benefit package for the drivers, which includes an HMO plan, a reimbursement benefit card, vision and dental insurance.
The school system gives an annual contribution, and this year it’s pitching in $1,850 for every regular bus route, or $301,550, according to Thompson. He said it’s a $50 increase. Each special-needs bus route received $3,700 or $103,600 — a $100 increase.
Thompson said they try to do minor increases each year. “The $50 that we’re adding is really not that much,” he said, adding that at least it’s something.
“How many people are really taking advantage of the health insurance,” school board member Rita Weaver asked Thompson. The transportation director said about 100. “The reimbursement card was a big thing they were taking advantage of,” he added.
The board approved the trust along with the school bus contracts Thompson also requested for approval.
He said there is one new special-needs bus and 19 replacement buses of the 42 contractors. There are also 12 six-year contracts to be renewed, 71 spare bus agreements, seven contracts transferred and three contractors who are changing ownership.
Kessler Bus Lines is changing to JSCT and will no longer be a contractor. However, Kessler Bus Line, a service run by a relative of the Kessler Bus Lines owner, drives for the public schools. The school system also lost Thomas & Son Transport, which is now Somerville & Sons Transport and Wise Bus Service, which is now C&C Bus Service.
Thompson said funding for buses come from transportation’s general fund, consisting of $7,587,198 from the state and $8,204,260 from the county. The department is reimbursed $250,000 by the federal-funded Head Start.
“Why do we need 71 spare buses?” school board member Jim Davis asked.
Thompson said they allow contractors to have spare buses and added “a number of spare buses are used for field trips.”
Karin Bailey, the school board chair, said the spare buses are also used to transport student athletes to sporting events.