News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, December 5, 2013
Surry school questions First Student bus contract

by Anne Berleant

Following a November incident when a First Student employee used duct tape to silence Surry students on a school bus, board members, Principal Cathy Lewis and Superintendent Mark Hurvitt met in an executive session on December 3.

No action was taken by the board when the executive session was closed.

The purpose was to discuss the contract Surry has with First Student, a company that provides school buses and drivers nationwide and in Canada.

The driver—who faces no criminal charges—was suspended by First Student while it investigates the incident.

The board requested more information about the contract between Surry Elementary School and First Student, said Hurvitt in a phone call after the meeting.

“They had a bunch of questions [that] I have to research,” he said.

Whether there is a viable alternative to using First Student “did come up,” said Lewis, in a phone call the following day. “At this point I have no concerns, because we have two quality bus drivers.”

Except for the “aberration” of the suspended bus driver, who first started in Surry in September, “First Student has done really well by us,” she said.

In other business at the board’s December 3 meeting, middle school science and math teacher Sarah Dunbar was granted an unpaid leave of absence for 16 weeks, beginning on January 6, for a sabbatical research program at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

“It’s competitive,” said Lewis, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Dunbar. “Such a kudo for our school and our kids.”

The board voted unanimously to allow Dunbar the unpaid leave, after discussing the downsides.

“The time frame is not good,” said Don Driscoll. “It really interrupts instruction for the kids.”

Pat Hollenberg asked if Dunbar would be required to stay at Surry for a fixed number of years as part of being granted the leave.

“It’s not a sabbatical,” said Hurvitt, which can include such a requirement.

“Even if she took this and went somewhere else, some other children will benefit, and that’s what education is all about,” said Laura Pellerano. “It’s a benefit all around.”

Dunbar plans to Skype with her students while on leave, have them tour the lab, and use the research experience when she returns to the classroom.

The school will advertise for a long-term substitute qualified to teach Algebra I and the middle school science curriculum.

In her principal’s report, Lewis informed the board that the first phase of a three-phase school security project could be completed during the December vacation. A front-door entry system, with buzzer and video monitor will be installed. The cost will be within the $5,000 budgeted for security this year, with the next two phases addressed during 2014-15 budget discussions.

“If we can bring $10,000 to town meeting, maybe we wouldn’t have to wait two years,” said Chairman Marlene Tallent.

The second phase is estimated at $5,200 and the third at $4,700.

Pellerano reminded the board that contracts for over $5,000 must go out to bid.

“It’s a $15,000 commitment [to one company],” she said. “Our policy requires we go out to bid.”

M3 Integrators of Brewer provided the estimate. No contract has been signed.

If each phase is kept as a separate contract and falls under $5,000, then no bidding process is needed, board members and Hurvitt argued.

“Security trumps a lot of things,” said Hurvitt.

Finally, the board gave unanimous approval to the appointment of Julie Havey as ed. tech. I in the kindergarten classroom and a new bullying policy that meets current state requirements.