Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrators are holding two public meetings for the families in Ninilchik, Anchor Point and Homer whose transportation options may change at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
Buses may be cut or school start times staggered to offset costs projected to reach deficit spending if services operate at current levels. State pupil transportation grant allocations will not include inflation funding past the 2015-2016 school year, which is also when the current contract with First Student expires. A Request for Proposals, or RFPs, was sent out in late January and closed at the end of March to address the transitions early.
“Vendors need time to potentially manufacture and deliver buses to Alaska,” said Pegge Erkeneff, school district spokesperson. “The district wants to give our communities time to be informed.”
The school district contracts 56 regular education buses at $552.70 per day, for an annual cost of nearly $94,000. The school district also contracts 20 special education buses, which are nearly $30,000 more each to operate than a regular education bus.
The price for providing vehicles has steadily increased over the past decade.
In 2005, servicing routes in the school district amounted to $4.6 million. Costs are currently twice as much as they were ten years ago, at more than $8 million annually to bus school district students. The state, which spent more than $53 million in 2005 on pupil transportation, and $75.5 million this year, usually covers the costs of student transportation, with a few caveats.
Alaska statute allows school districts to establish a regular pupil transportation route if eight or more pupils live more than 1.5 miles from the school to be served by the route, and if the entire route is over regularly maintained roads, with special provisions allowed for students with Individualized Education Plans, or special needs. Per statute, school districts are required to provide transportation services in the most cost effective way accessible.
“KPBSD is responsible to provide transportation for our students, so if actual costs exceed the grant revenue, KPBSD is responsible for that difference in cost,” Erkeneff said.
School districts don’t submit applications for grant money each year. The state calculates per student allocations, dependent on the Average Daily Membership, and pays each school district three times annually.
Previously reported by the Clarion, Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones said administrators expected returned contract proposals to be “substantially higher” than what is currently paid, after consulting with administrators in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and Anchorage School District, who all reported an average increase of 18 percent in transportation costs this year.
Coupled with expanding services, and an expected increase in charges for services from returned RFPs, the inflation funding that sunsets at the end of the current school year may leave significant space to fill.
“Without any changes the projection is a deficit of $247,000,” Erkeneff said. “However, we do anticipate adding two special education buses, one in the central (Kenai) Peninsula, the other in the Homer area. This would increase the deficit to $504,000. A special education bus is approximately $125,800 per year.”
Roughly $500,000 in cost savings might come through revising school start times, Jones said in a previous Clarion interview.
Each bus is contracted on a per-day basis. One bus is deployed per route, which is referred to as a one-tier system. If school start times were staggered, one of the options in the RFP, then one bus could drop of two loads of students in the morning and afternoon, which is referred to as a two-tiered system.
Route changes could take place in, and anywhere south of, Ninilchik in two years, Erkeneff said. Roughly 1,400 students are in the attendance areas that may be affected by route changes.
Three companies replied the school district’s RFP, but the names of which will not be made public until the Board of Education, which has to approve any changes that are made, receives information about the responses, Erkeneff said. None came in with lower costs than what the school district is currently contracting, she said.
The two public meetings will include information on the options administrators are considering based on the three received proposals.
The first of the two public meetings took place Tuesday in Homer. The second meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Ninilchik School library.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.