The Orono School Board approved contracts with both the district’s para-educators and transportation services at its meeting on Monday, April 25.

The master contract for para-educators is for a two-year period from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2023. The total package cost of the contract is a 6.81 percent increase for the two-year contract. The basic salary schedule increased by 2.0 percent in year one and by 2.0 percent in year two. Total package costs include the increase of the existing special education paraprofessional hourly differential, which moves from $1.25 to $1.75.

The approval of the transportation contract keeps First Student, Inc. as the district’s transportation provider for another four years.

First Student became Orono’s transportation provider in 2018 with a four-year contract that runs until July 31, 2022. The terms of that contract provided for the direct negotiation of additional years upon the end of the contract.

The two sides negotiated and came to a new agreement that calls for adding an additional two years 2022-23 (year 1) and for 2023-24 (year 2) to that contract with an option for two more years after that. The rate increase is 12 percent in the first year, 6.5 percent in the second year and an option to renew for an additional two-year period at 3.0 percent.

“We were able to work with First Student to come up with a rate adjustment to be more reflective of the market value of those services and at the same maximizing the state’s reimbursement of our transportation,” Jim Westrum, Orono’s Executive Director of Business Services, said. “Even though the rate increases are slightly higher than we would normally project, the actual cost to the district is going to be close to six percent in the first two years of the contract and drop down to three percent in the subsequent two years.”

Board members praised the work of Westrum, Superintendent Dr. Kristine Flesher, and members of the facility and finance committee for negotiating the contract with First Student.

“These numbers are not surprising that they have gone up,” Mike Bash said. “This is two years with a two-year option. We can hope that maybe if things have slowed down in two years, we have the option of mitigating those further or if its still bad we got the prices locked in for years three and four, if that’s what we want to do. We think this gives us the best of both worlds but acknowledging the reality that we are in today, the challenge of getting bus drivers. First Student has done an outstanding job of getting us bus drivers and that’s worth something.”

Martha Van De Ven agreed, “In today’s economy and today’s market and employment this is a wonderful contract.”

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