Rochester school board members held their noses and voted in favor tonight of a one-year deal with RTS to bus city students this coming school year. The vote was 6-1, with board president Van White opposed.
None of the board members seem happy with the deal — Commissioner Mary Adams called it "unconscionable" — but said they felt pressured because of the short time remaining before school re-opens. Adams, White, and other board members also urged the district to immediately begin shopping for an alternative to RTS for the 2016-2017 school year.
Some board members are particularly galled that the district will pay more for busing under the new contract, but fewer students will be bused. (They have to find another firm to transport the students that RTS will not.) They also appeared uncomfortable with the uncertainty over where the additional money — more than $10 million — will come from.
Superintendent Bolgen Vargas is, according to White, trying to get the state to put up the money. But board members worried openly that staff and services would suffer if the state doesn't come through. Vargas tried to allay their concerns by saying that there would be no layoffs or service cuts as a result of the transportation issue.
White wanted the board to reject the RTS deal and put the busing back out to bid, but it's clear that the majority of the board thought the issue too urgent to delay any longer.
"Given the time that we have, there's little else we can do," board member Willa Powell said. "I'm convinced that there was bad faith on both sides."
RTS said earlier this year that it would no longer bus city school students because of problems with youth violence at the downtown transit center. RTS and the city school district were able to quickly hammer out a deal for summer school busing, but transportation for the full school year beginning in September remained up in the air.
RTS released a statement immediately following tonight's school board vote.
"Working together, RTS and RCSD have designed a solution that achieves our mutual goals," it reads, in part.
Prior to this new deal, RTS and RCSD had already worked out a plan that significantly reduced the number of city school students that have to transfer through the downtown center.