VERNON TOWNSHIP — Despite a Meadville City Council member’s call to action, Crawford Central School Board members heard little with regard to the district’s Meadville-area bus services when they met Monday.
In fact, Deputy Mayor Larry McKnight was the only person to raise any concerns about busing at the meeting. While he acknowledged the potential for a new company encountering challenges as it takes over a new territory, he criticized a perceived lack of communication regarding such challenges.
“My concern is that no one is letting anyone really know,” McKnight said. “It’s caused a big problem. We want to know what’s going to be done and if something’s going to be done.”
Crawford Central Superintendent Tom Washington did not address McKnight’s concerns during the meeting but spoke to McKnight for several minutes after the meeting was adjourned. No board members commented on busing.
Washington did not respond to the Meadville Tribune’s request for comment on Tuesday.
McKnight’s comments to the school board on Monday were briefer and more restrained than those he offered during a City Council meeting last week, when he railed against Washington-based GG&C Bus Company Inc., Crawford Central’s contracted transportation provider.
His goal in calling out the bus company, he said, was to persuade his fellow council members to join in sending what he called a “letter of inquiry” from the city to the district regarding what he said were significant safety and performance concerns. While he acknowledged that council holds no authority over the school district, McKnight said council members should draw attention to the issue since city property owners pay taxes to Crawford Central.
McKnight is himself a bus driver and longtime employee of Hubbard Bus Service Inc., the Meadville-based company that provided Crawford Central buses for decades before the Washington, Pennsylvania-based GG&C was awarded the district’s contract for the Meadville area last year.
Having accused the school board of “not doing anything” about problems with district bus service that have continued into 2023, McKnight encouraged residents to contact the district and bring their busing-related concerns to the school board’s meeting on Monday.
McKnight’s previous comments to City Council targeted both the company’s drivers and its management as he claimed that GG&C drivers are “unsafe” and said problems with poor service that plagued the district at the beginning of the school year are continuing in 2023.
“Kids are being hurt,” he said. “This company is not fulfilling its contract, and our school board is not doing anything about it.”
McKnight was among a large group of Hubbard employees who addressed Crawford Central members in March in hopes of persuading them not to approve a five-year contract with GG&C. Hubbard’s $15 million bid for the contract was the highest of three received by the district and was about $5 million higher than the GG&C bid. Board members ultimately voted 7-1 in favor of GG&C.
As the current school year began, the switch in companies proved challenging — so challenging, in fact, that Washington issued an apology in an interview with the Tribune and again in a school board meeting. After opening the year with numerous instances of late pickups and dropoffs and even some routes that weren’t served at all, GG&C hired Hubbard to run more than half of the Meadville-area fixed routes that GG&C had been contracted to provide.
About 20 people filled the audience of Monday’s school board meeting, but none answered calls for comments from Vice President Melissa Burnett at the beginning and conclusion of the meeting. President Kevin Merritt, who was in Orlando, Fla., as part of a Cochranton Junior-Senior High School trip, attended via telephone and Burnett presided over the meeting.
With the board about to move on and no members of the public approaching the lectern, McKnight rose from his seat. After expressing his concerns, he also expressed disappointment.
“I’m just upset no one else from the community is here because it does affect everyone,” he said. “I just really hope that there’s a solution real soon before something bad really happens.”