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Appoquinimink school district to add up to 25 buses to fleet, doing away with "erratic" contractors

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The Appoquinimink Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to purchase up to 25 more buses ahead of the new school year.

Eight buses have already been purchased according to Tom Poehlmann, Director of Safety, Security & Operations, and eight drivers have been “pretty much hired.” Maintenance, safety and detailing will cost around $25,000 for each bus.

But Poehlmann said two contractors have returned a total of 11 contracts, despite the state lawmakers increasing bus driver salaries and per mile administrative fees for contractors.

This leaves many students without a bus route to get to school, while the district continues to grow by 300 to 500 new students each year. Poehlmann says that one contractor has been “erratic.”

“We can't head towards the school year with the word erratic in our vocabulary right now," Poehlmann said. "So 25 is the number that the group settled on now. The reality of the situation tonight is we can add 11 new school buses with approval tonight. It might be difficult at this point to add 25, but with approval, we will start the search for the additional buses.”

25 buses will need 25 drivers too, and Poehlmann says they have the applicants to hire as many.

Historically, Board member Richard Forsten opposed purchasing a single bus for the district, but says he is unwilling to work with contractors that “cherry pick” the best routes, and if they return some contracts, then he would vote to pull all contracts from that company.

“I gotta tell you, I mean, number two, it says work with our contractors, not replacing them. I'm not going to take it anymore," Forsten said. "If contractors start coming to us and start giving us more bus routes back, I'm going to take those bus routes back and I'm going to take all their bus routes and that's why the number went from 11 to 25. Because it's not customer service when you just want to cherry pick the very best routes and then give us a major headache in the middle of the summer.”

Board member Norman Abrams adds the district will need to look for additional property to store the new buses as well.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.