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Penn Hills might consider new transportation contractor

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Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, 3:30 p.m.
 

Penn Hills School District might seek another transportation provider for the next school year.

Officials at a Jan. 6 finance committee meeting referred to soliciting requests-for-proposals for transportation in 2014-15, although First Student officials say they have not been made aware of anything official to that effect.

The district's contract with First Student includes an opt-out clause, business director Richard Liberto said.

School officials have fielded regular complaints about First Student bus service since the company was hired in 2011, ranging from buses running 45 minutes behind schedule to missed pickups.

In October 2013, a group of Penn Hills students attending St. John the Baptist was not picked up after school, and staff from the Plum private school took them home, according to St. John Principal Teresa Szmed.

The transportation situation arose during a discussion about Tyler Technologies' Versatrans, a software package for planning bus routes, tracking bus trips and general transportation planning.

Liberto asked that a vote on whether or not to purchase the $23,000 package be placed on the school board's Jan. 27 agenda.

Secondary Education Director Bill McClarnon said the Versatrans software would help district officials to more efficiently provide bus routes to its transportation contractor.

McClarnon said he has discussed the possible purchase with First Student officials, but stressed that routing software would be necessary regardless of who handles future busing.

“Whether we go with First Student or go with ‘First and Ten,' we will (still) be designing our own bus routes next year,” McClarnon said.

The district's contract with First Student includes a termination clause allowing the district to opt out if 1) the state Legislature fails to provide adequate funding to allow the district to provide transportation, or 2) either party violates any covenants or duties imposed by the contract and does not correct the violation within 30 days.

Liberto did not comment on what part of the clause the district would cite if officials decided to terminate the contract.

First Student Area Manager Philip Eades said the company has not received any notice about a change in transportation providers.

“We value our partnership with the Penn Hills School District,” Eades said in an email to the Progress.

New bus routes will be required in the 2014-15 school year.

“We need to start soon on working up routes for the new elementary center,” Liberto said.

The center, which will consolidate Washington, Penn Hebron and Forbes elementary schools into one central building on the former Dible site, is slated to open in June.

The Versatrans software comes at a one-time cost of $23,719, with annual renewals of $5,020.

Act I budget resolution

The board is expected to vote on Jan. 27 to accept the state's tax-increase index for the Penn Hills School District, which is set at 2.9 percent.

An affirmative vote would mean that, if the board decides to raise taxes in the 2014-15 school year, it could not raise them beyond 2.9 percent, or about 0.67 mills, Liberto said.

School districts also have the option of requesting an exception from the state to raise taxes beyond the index for certain costs such as retirement contributions and special education; otherwise, raising taxes beyond the index requires that district taxpayers approve a referendum.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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