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Rayco Transportation owner critical of TASD officials after termination of bus contract

At their July 24 meeting, the Tyrone Area School Board voted to terminate the busing contract for Tyrone area based Rayco Transportation, after transporting Tyrone students for 33 years.
Reasons that Superintendent William Miller and Business Administrator Cathy Peachey cited were an aging fleet and an inability to come to an agreement on the financials of the bus contract, citing the School District does not pay bus contractors higher than the state reimbursement for transportation and that is standard for school bus contracts in this area. The district mentioned that Bellwood-Antis, along with others in the area strictly pay the state reimbursement and nothing higher.
However, in a recent written statement, Denise Beck, Vice President of Rayco Transportation Inc., criticized the School District Officials, specifically Dr. Miller and Mrs. Peachey, for implying certain facts about her company and her contract requests to the School Board and community that she says are not true.
In response to the School District’s concerns of Rayco’s aging fleet of buses, Beck criticized the School District for what she says sounded like “we ran faulty old equipment” and explained that school bus fleets must pass 3 state inspections per year. Two of the inspections are completed by a certified inspection mechanic that must be completed every six months. The other inspection is by the State Police and Motor Carriers Department, which is conducted annually through the summer. “If a school bus doesn’t pass inspection, it doesn’t operate,” Beck said. “My entire fleet has always been operational. My breakdowns have been minimal. We maintain our fleet of school buses and they are in good operating condition.”
Beck said that the School District incorporated into the contract that this year the equipment couldn’t be any older than 10 years. “This was my entire fleet,” Beck said. Rayco’s buses ranging from 8-years-old to 19-years-old, with the majority of the buses falling into the greater-than-10 bracket. Beck said she inquired about replacing her entire fleet of 12 buses. Beck said she went back to School District Officials and said Rayco could not afford to replace the entire fleet based on receiving the standard state reimbursement.
Beck said at that point that District Officials told her to try to get the average age of her fleet up to less than ten years. Working with a Harrisburg based busing company, she was able to locate four newer buses in order to bring the average age of her fleet down to 9 years.
Beck also stated that in addition to bringing up the age of her fleet, the School District also passed the fuel cost onto the contractors, stating her portion alone last year was $40,000. Along with the fuel cost, Beck said a $4 million dollar excessive liability insurance coverage on the fleet was also incorporated into the contract at a $15,000 cost.
According to Beck, with the fuel costs, insurance costs, and replacing several buses, Rayco was looking at additional expenses of about $120,000.
Beck stated that for the past several years, transportation has been taking financial cutbacks. “When they consolidated the elementary schools, and went to one run (transporting Grades K-12 on one bus), our company alone lost $75,000 per year,” Beck said, stating she also took a $64,000 cut two years ago when her mileage was re-evaluated. “We have not been paid for extracurricular trips that we take, a probable revenue to us of at least $168,000 over the past several years,” Beck said.
Beck also stated that School District Officials held their state index rate increase for the past several years. “What this means is that the state formula that is used to determine our state reimbursement is calculated by using the number of miles that bus travels, the number of students it transports, the age of the bus, the capacity of the bus, the number of the days that bus travels and then all of the information is multiplied by a rate factor determined by the state,” Beck said. “This rate factor usually increases an average of about 3 percent every year. The District held this increase for the past 3 years. We were reimbursed on a rate factor from the year 2002.”
Beck said she asked the School District to put into place minimum mileage levels and minimum student counts so that Rayco wouldn’t take future cuts. “This meant spending money out of their pockets because the state will only reimburse the District what the state formula actually is,” Beck stated, noting that half of her routes run 20 to 44 miles a day. “When you run those figures through state formula, it just doesn’t generate enough revenue to meet expenses the District was requesting. I just wanted some type of guarantee that with the added expenses passed on to us, we weren’t going to take anymore cuts and be able to meet our financial needs,” Beck said. “ I wasn’t asking to get rich. Believe me, we don’t live high on the hog here. We get by.”
Beck also criticized Business Administrator Cathy Peachey for questioning raises she projected for her drivers. “You don’t get rich driving a school bus either. Most of my drivers are just barely making it on a driver’s wage and they probably make a quarter of what a teacher makes,” Beck said. “But in the school’s eyes, school bus drivers only work 3 hours a day and sit behind a wheel and drive. For those of you who drove school bus, you know that isn’t the case.”
According to Beck, the average daily rate for her drivers was around $37 per day. She said she tries to give her drivers rate increases at the beginning of each school year. Beck explained that Tyrone Area School District Officials met with the Rayco drivers Thursday morning and asked them to drive on a $30 per day rate with a potential (not guaranteed increase) of $0.50 per day increase per year. She also stated the School District asked Rayco drivers to take a $0.50 per hour decrease on extra activity trips they may take. “This is what they think school bus drivers are worth,” Beck said.
“For 33 years, we have bent over backwards responding to their needs,” Beck said, stating that her drivers time and time again brought a student back to the school when there was nobody present at the bus stop to pick them up, which they were not reimbursed time or mileage for those trips.
She also said that her company was not reimbursed time and mileage for countless trips when they were called by the elementary school saying a student left a book bag or lunch box on the bus. “My drivers took those forgotten lunch bags and book bags back to the school out of the goodness of their hearts,” noting that many of her drivers do not live near the school.
“We provided a school bus for extra trips at an hour’s notice. We have provided a bus when the school’s mini bus broke down. We have been a convenience for the District for the past 33 years and I can’t operate a business as a non-profit organization.”
“Was my company financially crippled to operate on the expenses they required and the revenue they (the School District) were willing to reimburse? Yes,” Beck said. “Who made it that way? Not me. They did.”
School district officials could not be reached for comment before press time Friday.