By ALEXANDRA HILL
When it was time to rebid transportation, Francis Howell School District decided to bring transportation in-house. To accomplish that goal, they purchased 170 new buses [89% of the fleet] and 21 used buses [11% of the fleet]. The used buses are models from 2015 and 2017.
At press time, the district had hired 161 full-time and several part-time drivers. Jen Simpson, the district’s new director of transportation, said the plan is to hire 240 people in total. Most of the drivers hired joined Francis Howell from its former transportation provider, First Student, or other districts or services.
According to administrative assistant Laura Heidenreich, the district spent $13,233,124 for the buses and additional equipment such as radios and cameras. Those costs will be amortized over five to seven years. The combined salaries for drivers, related personnel and Simpson are estimated at $7,064,521 annually. The district will also has budgeted $1,454,000 for maintenance and fuel.
Simpson said the district will be monitoring closely the cost or cost savings of in-house transportation verses its last contract with First Student. The expectation is that the district break even in a few years and save money from that point forward.
The change in transportation is not expected to affect any of the bus schedules for the 2019-2020 school year, which begins Aug. 8. However, it is expected to improve communication as the district moves forward with safety upgrades, including a new digital radio system. The district also will have additional dispatchers to help manage issues when the fleet is in service. Each bus will have at least three cameras for safety and security. Fifty buses will have stop-arm cameras to take pictures of cars that pass a stopped bus. Most of the fleet is using gas instead of diesel, which makes it easier to start the buses in cold weather.
Heidenreich said First Student did its best to communicate and alleviate parent concerns, but with no more third party, communication will be streamlined. That will make it much easier to improve communication and improve their services, she said.
The district is encouraging parents and guardians to sign up for the Infinite Campus Parent Portal for bus information. Activation keys must be acquired from the student’s school office.