DALLAS TWP. — Jeff Emanuel spoke of a family bus business started “by my father 50 some years ago.” His wife, Sally, solemnly told the Dallas School Board that “in the palm of your hands lies our future.” And several bus drivers spoke of Emanuel Bus Line not as a business but as a family.
It wasn’t enough. The board ended the district’s long relationship with Emanuel Bus with a 5-3 vote that left one member groping for words and another calling it “the toughest vote” in her 20 years on the board.
Business Manager Grant Palfey said the contract would save the district $83,000 a year over its five-year term.
The room full of Emanuel supporters rose angrily, some rebuking the board for abandoning a local employer, and one shouting they had just hired a “child molester.”
The remark referred to the fact that the company replacing Emmanuel, G. Davis of Shohola, Pike County, has an employee who may have a criminal background that would, by state law, preclude that person from coming onto school property or interacting with students.
But Solicitor Ben Jones III has said that even if the Davis employee has a criminal background, the company can be awarded the contract as long as that person doesn’t deal with students. The resolution awarding the contract explicitly noted it is “conditioned upon the review and approval of a written contract … to insure strict compliance with all provisions of the Pennsylvania Public School code and Pennsylvania Department of Education regulations.”
The code explicitly requires districts to conduct background checks, and bars a district from hiring people who will interact with children if those people havebeen convicted within five years of the background check on any of about 30 state laws, or their federal equivalents. The offenses listed range from homicide to controlled substance abuse to sexual abuse of children.
The code goes beyond those hired directly by the district, noting any violation of the same laws means a district cannot accept “the services of a contractor if the applicant, contractor or contractor’s employees would have direct contact with children.”
The board made no comment on the allegations regarding a G. Davis employee, but Palfey noted after the meeting that the employee in question is an office worker who would never have reason to visit the district.
Before the vote, Sally Emanuel noted her family’s company is in the district and pays taxes to it. She questioned where the buses from a Pike County company would be parked, where they would refuel considering they operate on propane rather than gasoline or diesel, and whether they even had enough of the new buses to handle all the district’s students.
“Sometimes a good deal is not a good deal,” she said.
Her husband, Jeff, said he felt the board “was jumping the gun,” and that natural gas buses, not propane, were the wave of the future for cleaner bus transportation. “Two years from now our local vendors will have natural gas available.” He also noted Emmanuel Bus Lines tries to deal with local companies and is locally accessible if problems occur.
But Genevieve Davis, the owner of G. Davis, assured the board the company will have enough buses and will have a team in the area to deal with any problems. After the meeting, Palfey said the district installed a bus pad when it built the new high school, and there are enough parking places on it to accommodate all the required buses plus a spare, “which G. Davis will provide.”
Several drivers spoke of decades with Emanuel Bus lines, praising the couple for their commitment to workers and the community. But in the end, the economics won out. Board Member Fred Parry asked Palfey to go over the differences in the two bids offered by each company, and Palfey gave the bottom line: The district would save $83,000 a year over the five-year contract by going with G. Davis. Parry also noted the district would be getting new buses with the latest safety features in the deal.
As one supporter put a palm on Jeff Emanuel’s back, the board voted. Maureen Matiska paused and choked up a moment as she said it was the hardest vote of her 20-year tenure, then voted no. Karen Kyle paused even longer, echoing Matiska’s feelings, and also voted against Davis. Charles Preece cast the third no vote.