The Howard County School Board delayed action last night on an advisory committee that would have given bus contractors a forum for theirideas on student transportation -- but would not have been the appeals panel the contractors wanted for resolving disputes with the school system.
The board postponed its vote to allow the lawyer for theschool bus contractors, board attorneys and school officials an opportunity to discuss several issues, including the role of the private contractors in resolving disciplinary issues involving their drivers.No decision was made on when to bring the issue back before the board.
The policy that had been up for a vote yesterday called for creation of an advisory committee that would provide opinions and commentsto school officials on how the student transportation system operates. The committee was to have five members, with contractors among them.
However, it would not be involved with resolving disputes, saidRobert S. Lazarewicz, head of the school system department that includes student transportation.
The Howard County School Bus Contractors Association had asked the school board to create an appeals review committee to hear disputes between bus drivers, who are employed bythe contractors, and school transportation officials.
That committee would have included one contractor and two school system administrators. Its decisions could be appealed to the school board.
School bus contractors want to be represented when the transportation staff raises a discipline issue with a driver, explained Thomas M. Meachum, attorney for the contractors. However, the policy excludes contractors from discipline decisions.
"It's the same as any other employment scenario," Meachum said. "The employee works for the contractor,and if the school system (staff) says we want you to do something, the answer is 'I understand what you're saying, but you're not my boss.' "
But Lazarewicz said school system attorneys advised against opening the appeals process to contractor representatives and urged keeping it as a school system management process.
The disciplinary process applies to contractors as well.
The final version of the policy calls for the director of pupil transportation to investigate incidents involving a bus driver's competence and fitness.
He can issue a reprimand or suspend or withdraw school system approval of the driver.
Withdrawal would not affect the driver's license but wouldbar him from driving a school bus for any Howard County contractor.
Only a a few disciplinary actions are taken against drivers each year, school officials said.
The policy allows appeals to the associate superintendent of finance and operations and to the school board.
Contractors succeeded in eliminating a county zoning official's request for proof of zoning compliance from the final policy.
Joseph W. Rutter, director of planning and zoning, wanted school bus contractors to present proof of zoning compliance before a contract couldbe signed.
Rutter could not be reached for comment Monday or yesterday on why he wanted the proof of compliance included.
Meachum said contractors felt the suggestion was unfair because it would open the contractor's property to zoning inspections and because zoning disputes could hold up a contract.
"Just because I'm a business person, that is not a reason why I'm going to expose my personal real property to a zoning inspection," Meachum said.
School officials added a statement to the contract that says contractors are required to comply with county zoning laws and with property covenants that place restrictions on bus parking or maintenance.