A Berks County school sided with the community on the issue of privatizing school bus transportation after a study revealed the move would provide little savings to the district.

Tuesday's Exeter Twp. School Board meeting was full of concerned residents and bus drivers who could potentially lose their jobs, to show their opposition to hiring an outside contractor.

Although the board will officially vote on the issue next week, it became obvious board members believe the best option would be keeping bus services district-owned.

The packed meeting erupted in applause when board president Robert H. Quinter said, "Although we will officially vote next week, you can have an opinion to how it's gonna go."

Board member Anne Guydish presented a PowerPoint presentation outlining the benefits and the drawbacks to outsourcing the district's bus services. Guydish said Berks County Intermediate Unit, STA and First Student placed three-to five-year bids to compete with the district-owned operations.

BCIU offers transportation services to seven school districts. STA of Pennsylvania has 28 schools under contract, while First Student provides transportation to 66 schools in the state.

Guydish said district-owned bus transportation for three years would cost between $4.6 to $5.1 million. BCIU offered the lowest bid and could save the district anywhere between $185,939-$462,997 over three years. Quinter pointed out, however, that the district's fleet of buses would be purchased by BCIU under the contract and after a three year period would force the district to either renegotiate a new contract with BCIU or purchase a new fleet. "So we're not really saving anything with BCIU." Quinter said amid loud applause.

"The bids from STA and First Student were out of reach and not realistic," Guydish said of the other two contractors. STA would cost the district between $939,214-$1,150,517 more than district-owned services for three years, while First Student would cost an additional $845,002-$1,081,706.

After the presentation, each board member that spoke was in favor of keeping bus transportation district-owned. Board member Joesph Straub said, "Based on these numbers I don't see anything that would recommend a change in services," adding, "We are also an employer. The wages we pay stay in this economy."

Board member Russell Diesinger apologized to the anxious crowd, "I'm gonna state the obvious. We owe you all a thank-you."

Patricia O'Brian-Pieja noted the recent mix-ups BCIU had regarding school children being dropped off at the wrong bus spots. "The safety of our students is of the utmost importance."

A loud and relieved crowd applauded after each member spoke.

Bus driver and Exeter resident Gail Faber presented the board with a petition with more than 1,200 signatures of residents in favor of keeping bus transportation district-owned. "I want to thank the board members for their understanding and I want to thank the community for their overwhelming support."