WALES — The divisive school busing issue that was never resolved formally last spring is out for a spin again.

The board of Regional School Unit 4, which includes Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales, is getting voters’ opinions on whether to contract out school bus operations to a private company.

Residents in the three towns will get to weigh in on the issue in the Nov. 6 election. The result, however, will not be binding on the board.

“The board doesn’t want to abdicate responsibility,” Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said. “They want the decision ultimately to be theirs, but the hope is they can follow the wishes of the community.”

The school board voted — with one dissenter — to ask this question on the ballot:

“Would you be in favor of having RSU #4 contract with a private company for all student bus transportation services instead of using its own personnel if the RSU #4 Board of Directors obtained a bid for such services that the Board deemed beneficial to the RSU?”

Joan Thomas, of Litchfield, was the lone school board member opposed to putting the question to the voters.

“I thought we had settled it more or less in the spring,” she said. “I had thought they listened to the public and the public view was to leave it alone and keep it in-house.”

Thomas said she hopes the board will follow the public’s direction.

A move to contract out the bus operations ignited a firestorm last spring as bus drivers who were looking at losing their jobs with the district and other community members asked the board to reconsider the move, which was expected to save the district more than $220,000, minus the cost of a severance package for the drivers.

Drivers aired their concerns at school board meetings and picketed at one. The district had 22 drivers at the time.

Despite those efforts, the school board voted May 2 to privatize the operation.

Then, on May 9, the board opted against awarding the contract to the sole bidder, Northeast Charter & Tour of Lewiston, which provides busing service to Winthrop schools.

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

Thomas remains a staunch supporter of keeping busing in-house.

“The bus drivers know the children as people; they know who is home and who isn’t home; they know the routes,” she said. “They’re more than bus drivers, and that was pretty much my stand from Day 1 — plus there has never been a firm dollar amount that we would be saving by contracting it out.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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