School Committee Postpones Action on Fuel Surcharge Request

The Everett School Committee has yet to decide whether it will approve a fuel surcharge fee totaling almost $75,000 that has been requested by the schools’ bus company, Malden Transportation, Inc.

While all members have agreed that the local company has performed, and continues to perform, at a high quality, the fuel surcharge that Malden Transportation is seeking, almost $75,000 because of increased fuel costs, is not in the current school budget and is not listed as a payable charge in their contract.

“I am pleased with Malden Transportation, but I do not want to set a precedent and this is best left for when we renegotiate,” said Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani.

During the discussion, it was brought out that Malden Transportation operates on a seven percent profit margin, and if the added fuel costs are not reimbursed by the city, the profit margin could fall as low as 5.5 percent.

Upon hearing this information, School Committeeman Marcony Barros said, “This is not about a company closing. This company is concerned about profits. We gave them help during the pandemic.” Barros was referring to how even though the schools were closed and no bus services were being performed because of the pandemic, the Everett School Dept. honored the contract.

“What about the teachers who drive to work?” Barros asked his fellow members.

When asked how the $75,000 — which, if approved, would have to come from the School Dept.’s general fund — would be used if the committee does not approve the request, Tahiliani noted that any surplus money in the department’s budget goes into the stabilization fund that helps fund shortfalls in paying for students’ needs.

Committeewoman Cynthia Sarnie said she wanted to know whether Malden Transportation had received money from the Payroll Protection Plan during the same period that the School Dept. was fulfilling its obligations on the contract during the pandemic.

“The company ought to be heard,” said School Committeeman Michael McLaughlin.

On a 5-2 vote, the committee sent the matter to the Finance Committee for further discussion.

In other news, the committee was informed that the Parlin Junior High might sooner become more handicapped-compliant pursuant to the ADA guidelines. The members had asked during the last meeting to postpone some of the repairs in other projects proposed in the current school budget under the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and to fund immediately the $2-$3.5 million in repairs to the Parlin School to make it handicapped-accessible sooner than what had been proposed in the original plan.

In another CIP-related matter, Assistant Supt. Charles Obremski, in his CIP presentation at the April 4 meeting, noted that many of the plans call for trying to add classroom space from under-utilized areas such as storage closets and offices in the local schools in order to alleviate the issue of overcrowding in the city’s schools.

It was noted that the high school has exceeded its capacity of 1,800 by almost 400 students and the George Keverian School is no better, with 950 students in a building built to educate 650 students.

Obremski told the committee to ease the over crowding that eight modular classrooms could be added at the Keverian School to accommodate 200 additional students at a cost of almost $2 million.

However, Sarnie asked whether there are other buildings either that the city owns or could rent to help ease the overcrowding quickly, rather than spending the money on modular classrooms.  Obremski noted that there are ongoing discussions with city and school officials.

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