WALES — Busing will remain in-house for 2012-2013 in the school district that serves Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales.

The board of Regional School Unit 4 recently voted 5-2 to reject the lone bid to privately run the district’s buses and to wait until after Sept. 1 to send out any more requests for proposals to run the buses.

“Basically, this action does squelch privatizing,” Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said Wednesday.

Contracting out the bus operation proved controversial over recent weeks, and bus drivers who were looking at losing their jobs with the district and other community members asked the board to reconsider the move that was expected to save the district $233,000 — minus the cost of a severance package for the drivers.

The drivers picketed at the last board meeting. The board voted May 2 to privatize the operation and later to approve a $17.6 million school budget that is 2.16 percent higher than the current year.

Then, on May 9, the board opted against awarding the contract to the sole bidder, Northeast Charter & Tour of Lewiston.

“What changed for some board member were questions about mileage, maintenance and repair issues and some liability insurance issues,” board Chairman Robert Gayton Jr. said Wednesday.

“What we’re going to do is to look at these things, answer those questions, and put a question on the November ballot saying, ‘If we can save X dollars by privatizing busing, would you be in favor of it?'”

Betty Jo Wade, of Litchfield, a 29-year bus driver for the district, had voiced those concerns at the May 2 meeting.

Hodgkin said the board’s facilities committee will continue to work on the issues involving transportation.

Now that bus operations are back in the budget, Hodgkin and other administrators are working to pare down the budget by about $70,000 to keep it within the amount the school board approved.

Hodgkin said the result could be the elimination of two or three of the 19 bus driving posts since the routes are being scrutinized for consolidation savings.

“We have had several more retirements, so we’re realizing more savings there,” Hodgkin said.

He said officials hope to keep a high school social studies teaching post in the budget.

“We think we can get the number down to 2.16 (percent),” he said. “That’s our plan, anyway.”

The district’s 2012-2013 budget goes to a public vote June 6 at Oak Hill High School, and then voters will be asked to affirm it at the polls June 12.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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