WALES — A committee tasked with recommending a contract for RSU 4 bus service decided on Monday to pass a split decision to the school board.

“I believe that we owe the best education we can provide for our students,” committee member Robert English of Wales said.

A crowd had gathered in the RSU 4 superintendent’s office building, mostly bus drivers and their families, to hear the recommendation and have their say in the matter.

The committee of four — English, Scott Weeks of Litchfield, Nancy Provost of Sabattus and Jim Wilkens of Waterville — pored over budget line items and debated numbers before addressing pros and cons of allowing Northeast Charter School Bus Services to take over driving for the region’s bus fleet.

English was quick to point out the three-year contract with Northeast, which currently transports students in Winthrop, Lewiston and Auburn, would exceed their needs, while saving the union $190,000.

Not all in attendance agreed with English, including Joan Morin of the Maine Education Association.

“When you started this process, you never came to the employees of the association and asked, ‘What can we do to save money?'” Morin said.

“And so now, all these people in this room are looking at losing their jobs when you didn’t even give them the opportunity to let us help you.”

English responded, “It’s my responsibility as an employee to exercise this at my office every day, and if I can see a more efficient way of doing it, it’s my responsibility to offer that up and that’s just the way I was raised.

“We finally got some savings,” English continued. “There’s no doubt about it, and we appreciate it and the taxpayers appreciate it.”

English said the process was discussed in board meetings, at which the MEA had a representative, and there were no offers to find alternative solutions.

Morin asked English if there were ways to find other options to cut costs, drawing a sharp response.

“Boy, you’re real good,” English said. “No, you’re just real good at just keeping on talking.”

English explained the early nature of the process and said the votes are not yet in.

Morin brought to the committee’s attention that in November 2012, voters rejected contracting student bus transportation regardless of budget savings, drawing another response from English.

“I have to hear it every week from town people about taxes and about the school and the money they can’t afford it,” English said.

“They’re losing their houses; they haven’t had a pay raise in years,” he said. “That they’ve had to take pay cuts to keep the job they have. I hear it from the community people that I represent, many of which did not come out to vote.”

As Morin began to speak again, English told her, “So, we’re going to get back to our business, and you can sit there and listen, please.”

English said the issue should never have gone before the voters.

“It abdicated our responsibility as board members,” he said, adding that it was one of the most “irresponsible things the board has done since I’ve been on it.”

Weeks came out opposed to contracting.

“We listed experience as a pro (contract) and I would probably have to argue that our people probably have just as much experience as Northeast does,” Weeks said.

Provost stood in favor of contracting services, and said the matter should not be an emotional one.

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