School district transportation decision postponed

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Thursday, June 9, 2016 9:29pm
  • News

The Board of Education postponed a decision to award the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s next transportation contract until July 11, at the regularly scheduled meeting.

Three companies applied to provide busing services, including the current vendor First Student Inc., scheduled to start in July, 2017. All proposed rates came in above what the school district is presently paying; the lowest, submitted by Missouri-based Apple Bus, was a 1 percent increase.

First Student’s contract ends June 30, 2017. Due to the sunset of built-in state inflation funding this year, and future expansion of special education routes, the board and school district administrators are addressing potential symptoms early.

If Alaska Department of Education and Early Development pupil transportation grant allocations remain static, the school district transportation fund will empty by 2022 at the latest, or 2019 at the earliest, dependent on what steps the board takes to address the shortfall, Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones at a board worksession Monday.

Nearly the entire $8.5 million school district transportation budget, 96 percent, is spent on buses, according to a May 31 memo.

The state spent $75.5 million on transportation in FY16, divvied up to school districts through the the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s pupil transportation grant; that amount has doubled in the past ten years.

The school district currently pays $94,000 every year, or $552.70 per day for each of 56 regular education buses, in three service areas. The school district’s 20 contracted special education buses each run at $30,000 more than regular education buses to operate annually because qualified monitors are hired to accompany student riders.

The number of enrolled students with Individual Education Plans, or IEPS, continues to grow and two more routes will likely be added in FY17, which will nearly double any yearly deficit spending each year.

The boards decision next month will also determine whether or not the southern Kenai Peninsula service area moves to two-tiers, the system already in place in the central Kenai Peninsula. One a one-tier system a single bus is sent to pick up one load of students and drop them off at school, and take the same load home at the end of the day. On two-tier system, one bus will pick up and drop off two loads of students in the morning and afternoon.

Buses are paid by the day, and moving to a two-tier system will save nearly $500,00 annually, but will not hold off a deficit indefinitely.

A two-tier system also requires schools start nearly one hour apart so drivers have enough time to make drop offs and head to the next site.

Superintendent Sean Dusek said the school district is looking toward studies that support later start times actually improve academic performance in secondary level students.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests middle and high school students begin their day no earlier than 8:30 a.m., to ensure they receive a sufficient amount of sleep every night, which helps overall health and level of alertness in class, according to an Aug. 6, 2015 press release.

Jones said he was pleased multiple vendors applied to the Request For Proposals the school district sent out in January.

Administrators would not release the amount of the highest bid, or name of the third bidder, until a procedural appeals period is complete and before a contract is awarded.

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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