CAMDEN — The 12 bus drivers serving Camden-Rockport area schools have said “no” to plans to hire a private company to handle transportation, prompting that company to withdraw its bid.

“We have been unanimous when we all discussed it,” said bus driver Patrick Garrett. “We are not going to work for anyone who will give us less.”

The bus drivers have been firm with the Five Town CSD/MSAD 28 that they will only continue to drive buses if they have a contract guaranteeing them continued pay and benefits. Garrett said he is most concerned about some of the bus drivers who do the work to maintain their health insurance.

Superintendent Maria Libby said Feb. 3 the district might contract Luce Transportation next year because it has become too difficult for the school district to find bus drivers to fill vacant positions.

She said it would increase the transportation line in the budget by $105,000.

She said at the time that Luce would likely hire the bus drivers to work for the private company in driving the buses, which would continue to belong to the school.

She said Feb. 11 that Ben Luce had rescinded his bid for the MSAD 28 regular Camden/Rockport routes and trips.

“Without at least a large portion of the current drivers coming on board with him at Luce Transportation, it would likely be impossible for him to fulfill such a contract during this labor crisis,” she said. “Our drivers made it clear they would not work for Luce if he got the contract.”

The school board had been set to discuss the issue at the Feb. 10 meeting, but after the bid was withdrawn the item was stricken from the agenda.

“This is no longer an option for the district at this time,” she said.

Transportation has been a struggle for the school district this year. Just as school was starting in the fall, the district replaced its newly hired transportation director. Chris Fanelli is the current director.

Garrett said the district should use some of the money from the amount it expected to pay as an increase to privatize busing to hire a consultant who knows how to hire drivers. He argues that somewhere in the country such a consultant must exist.

He said this has hurt the morale for the drivers and they feel there is a lack of support.

“This shows me what our worth is, which is basically nothing,” he said.

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