ROARING SPRING - A Monday vote that pitted Spring Cove school board members against their longtime bus contractor in a sometimes heated argument turned 12 bus routes over to a new company.
Board members voted unanimously to approve a five-year contact with Leidy-Carbaugh, a joint operation involving two companies in the Northern Bedford County School District. Board documents place the contract at roughly $244,000.
Before the vote, angry members of the Smith family - owners of the outgoing contractor, Dennis L. Smith Busing of Roaring Spring - denounced the bidding process as board President Jeff Brennecke pounded his gavel to call order.
"You're treating us like dirt," said company co-owner Dennis Smith, who described himself as a 52-year veteran at the district.
The vote was the culmination of years of problems with Smith, board members said. Drivers repeatedly refused to adhere to district requests, like using bus-mounted strobe lights to ensure children's safety, member Charlene Dodson said.
"We had asked them to do things, and they wouldn't do them," Dodson said. "As a consumer, how long do you deal with that?"
While several board members seemed set to end the relationship with Smith, the vote - which from the outset showed Leidy-Carbaugh as the low bidder - provoked questions about whether a new contractor could take financial advantage of the district through mileage manipulation.
The contract includes a requirement that the bus company maintain at least one small depot within the district's borders; each bus would set its mileage from that depot for reimbursement from Spring Cove.
But that loophole could allow a contractor to place a depot in a remote part of the district, charging higher mileage for unnecessarily long trips, some suggested. Smith was the only bidder headquartered in the Spring Cove School District.
"It's a valid point," Brennecke said, noting that compensation runs roughly 51 cents per mile. "We're looking at pennies here and pennies there, thousands of dollars here and thousands of dollars there."
Hoping to quash concerns about potential mileage fleecing, the board called an executive session behind closed doors to discuss depot sites with each bidder.
As board members met in a side room and contractors talked shop in a nearby hallway, each company's representatives were called in one by one for private conferences.
When the private meetings ended, Brennecke announced that each bidder had offered acceptable depot sites. With Leidy-Carbaugh apparently meeting specifications and bidding below its competitors, the board moved swiftly to a unanimous "yes" vote.
The company is set to take over the 12 routes, half of the district's coverage, starting this fall. Smith representatives said their competitors will have a tough time gathering resources - including drivers, many of whom work for Smith - by then.
Despite the unanimous support for Leidy-Carbaugh, some board members seemed disappointed to end their long relationship with Smith.
"I feel bad because it didn't have to be this way, all right? It didn't have to come to this," Dodson said. "But service is service."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.