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Schools closed but bus contractor asks payment from Yorkville School District

Board of Education, administrators to continue talks on payments for contracted services

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YORKVILLE – Yorkville school officials will continue to discuss how they will address the requests of payment for contracted services not rendered during school closures due to the COVID-19 coronavirus emergency.

Mindy Bradford, executive director of finance and operations for Yorkville School District 115, said during the March 16 district Board of Education meeting that Septran, the school bus transportation provider for the school district and one of the biggest transportation providers in the country, is requesting payment from the school district for home to school routes only while schools are closed per Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker's school closure and now "stay-at-home" orders. She said that does not include payment for extracurricular or field trip routes, for example.

“That cost is approximately $34,000 per day," Bradford said. "So that’s for [general education students], in-district special [education students] and out-of-district special education [students],” Bradford said.

Bradford said that piece is budgeted for the school district, but it's unknown what reimbursement rates would look like from the state. Based on current reimbursement levels as of March 16, she said, it would be about $21,000 per day that the school district would be potentially foregoing.

Pete Marcelo, assistant superintendent of student and business services for Yorkville School District 115, said that, as a practicing psychologist, he can’t bill for services that he didn’t provide if a patient doesn't show up.

"So I mean, that’s a big risk factor, in my opinion," Marcelo said.

Lynn Burks, president of the school board, said it's good news as long as the part-time drivers would be eligible for unemployment, even if it's only a portion of what employees would have otherwise earned if they were working as normal. However, she said, unemployment insurance comes from Septran and, to her understanding, the transportation company would have to pay for it.

“So they basically want us to supplement their unemployment,” Burks said.

Bradford said Septran officials made the request because the concern was that drivers who are now out of work will go and find other jobs. She said the concern is those drivers who leave would not be able to come back to service district students once school returns in session.

School board member Gary Katula said he agreed that's one of the most difficult things for bus services is to find employees, "so there is the potential" for them to lose employees due to schools being shut down. He asked whether there could be a middle ground that could be worked out between Septran and the school district.

“Something where we can make some kind of option where you can say, ‘Look, we will give you 50% of what we said, with the understanding if the school year goes longer for 'X' amount of time, at that point, we’re only going to pay you 50%’,“ Katula asked.

Burks said her concern is what type of precedence this could set for other third-party contracts with the district.

Marcelo said one example of where else this concern may arise is with Aramark, the school district's food service provider. Even though the district is providing daily free and reduced lunch to students with the food service provider, he said, that’s still only applying to about 100 students as opposed to the district's entire student body.

“We have a much bigger operation during the school year," Marcelo said. "Do we supplement them?”

School board member Tom Kozlowicz said he would have a hard time supporting the school district in paying for Septran's services, or lack thereof, during this school closure time. The unprecedented situation that already has so many gray areas is changing daily, he said, and the bottom line is that the bus service is not being given while the governor's order are in place.

Kozlowicz also said he's noticing from a taxpayer standpoint right now that there are going to be a lot of people out of work with no income at all.

“And I’m not sure that would go over very well if you actually thought about paying people for services not being given," Kozlowicz said.

Bradford clarified that the school district defines a vendor as anyone outside of the school district providing products or services to the school district through a contract.

"It's hundreds," Bradford said after being asked how many vendors the district has contracts with that might be affected.

Shimp said the matter wasn't brought forth during the March 16 meeting as a formal agenda item and was only meant for discussion, meaning there has been no vote on the matter so far. In the meantime, he said, he thinks school officials need to find out more information before moving forward with the request.

“So we will continue to gather more information,” Shimp said.

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