Sag Harbor School District Debates Hiring Transportation Consultant

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The Sag Harbor School District’s one-mile “flagpole rule” may soon come under the microscope of a transportation consultant, with a potential community referendum on the horizon should school officials determine it makes sense to offer busing to more students.

A school board subcommittee on Monday recommended the district hire Transportation Advisory Services (TAS) for $11,850 to take a close look at multiple aspects of Sag Harbor’s bus logistics. TAS, based in Walworth, New York, has clients in 22 states, according to its website. The school board may vote on the contract when it meets on Monday, February 12.

“We have been approached by different families asking us to take a look at the current one-mile limit for busing and whether or not we believe, after looking at the costs and benefits, it would be a good idea to decrease that limit,” said elementary school principal Matt Malone, who is leading the subcommittee.

Other tasks the consultant would take on include a general look at the entire bus system — routes, fleet usage, fuel purchasing, staffing and more — along with recommendations for future planning and growth.

But it is the first issue, examining the cut-off distance that separates those who get bus rides from those who don’t, that is the most time sensitive. In fact, TAS would only have a few weeks to complete that study, according to Superintendent Katy Graves, in order to guarantee the district enough time to put a measure on the ballot in May at the same time the budget vote takes place.

Mr. Malone said the committee was aware that time is a factor.

“We believe it would be wise for the district, at this point, to have … a thorough review of the program,” he said. “We reviewed two proposals and believe Transportation Advisory Services would be able to serve us well.”

Board president Diana Kolhoff on Tuesday said the board acknowledges the timeline is tight but said it is optimistic it will have the information it needs to make a decision.

“The board is pleased that the transportation committee has come forward with a recommendation,” she said. “I have not finalized the agenda with the superintendent yet, but we hope to be able to gather what we need in time to vote on it Monday night.”

The district did not have to publish a formal request for proposals because the expense falls under the “professional services” category and was less than $20,000, which is typically the threshold at which an RFP is required, Ms. Graves said Tuesday.

The consultant, if hired, would be expected to look for savings from within the transportation program that make up for what the district is spending on its contract.

“I’m pretty fiscally conservative,” Ms. Graves said Tuesday. “I think that’s an important point, that they find efficiencies for the district so we can capture back what we invest.”

Ken Dorph, a Sag Harbor resident who sits on the school board’s transportation subcommittee and who also participates in a grassroots community group that is brainstorming transportation and parking solutions to take to the village government, said Monday he thinks it’s time for the school district and Sag Harbor Village “to talk.”

“I think we are ready,” Mr. Dorph said. “If we’re going to propose new sidewalks and other things to make transportation better … we should work with the village because the state is pushing cooperation.”

Safety, particularly along Route 114, emerged as a primary reason why the distance cutoff may be reexamined.

“One mile might sound so close. In some parts it might be a no-brainer, but we all know what the issue is with 114,” said board member Susan Lamontagne, who also requested that TAS examine flexibility with school start times.

TAS, the consulting firm, is currently involved in a dispute with an upstate bus company, Freeman Bus Corp., in which the bus company has claimed TAS helped the Watertown City School District craft a flawed request for busing proposals, according to a January 7 report by The Watertown Daily Times. The newspaper reported that RFP process ultimately led to the Freeman Bus Corp. losing out on a new five-year contract with the Watertown City School District after having served the district for more than 50 years.

On the East End, TAS has worked with school districts in Amagansett, Greenport, Montauk, Riverhead, Southold and Springs. A letter of recommendation from the Southold School District, posted on TAS’s website, commended the consulting firm for “excellent” work.

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