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Doubling bus runs may save Armstrong School District $875K

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By Patrick Shuster
Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

MANOR -- By increasing the percentage of double bus runs next school year, the Armstrong School District expects to realize a savings of nearly $875,000, according to consultants hired to study the district's busing system.

Randy Serafin of School Transportation Consultants of Blairsville told the school board Monday that the district currently has 38 percent of its buses making double runs — meaning the same bus delivers high school and elementary school students to and from school on a daily basis. With extensive route changes and modifications, he said, that number will increase to 90 percent next school year.

"By increasing the number of double runs, we were able to eliminate 31 buses from the fleet, maximizing the number of students on each bus," he said. "By doing so, the district will see a cost reduction of $874,666 next year."

Serafin and Randy Smith, owner of the firm and Smith Bus Co., told the board that by using the district's current transportation software and working with the district's five contractors, the savings should become an annual savings to the district.

They warned, however, that state reimbursement amounts will decline in years to come as the district will be utilizing fewer buses than it currently uses.

School directors agreed that the recommendations presented were "a move in the right direction." However, some were concerned with possible changes in the times students would return home at the end of the day.

Directors Chris Choncek, Joe Close and Steve Kozuch said they hope any changes in pickup times would be taken before the board by the administration before being implemented.

"My concern is that with the double runs, there is a small window of time between when the buses pick up the high school students and the time they have to return to the school to pick up the elementary students," Close said. "You mentioned having to maybe change the times by 5 or 10 minutes, but there is a chance it could end up being 25 or 30 minutes, and that is a huge impact on the parents."

Smith and administrators assured the board that any change in times would be brought to the board for discussion and approval, if needed.

"We're not planning to have to change the times, and we are working with the school principals to make dismissals more efficient," Smith said. "We have a window of time to pick up the elementary students, so we should be able to make the needed adjustments without altering the pickup times."

After an hourlong discussion about the transportation plan, directors voted 7-1 to approve it and begin to implement the recommended changes. Close voted against the plan, and Director Jim Rearic was not at the meeting.

In other news:

• The board voted 8-0 to approve a resolution saying the district will not increase taxes above the state index amount of 1.4 percent, or 1.09 mills. The resolution allows the district to call for no tax increase or an increase up to about $545,000.

Director Jim Solak said he believes the district will not need to increase taxes by any amount for the coming school year and plans to ask for a formal vote on that matter in the coming months.

• The board voted 8-0 to hold an Act 34 public hearing for the renovation and expansion project at Kittanning High School at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 in the school auditorium.

The district, by law, must hold a hearing on the project, which is estimated at $30 million. The project would result in the closure of Kittanning Junior High School and the transfer of those students into the newly renovated and expanded high school building.

According to project specifics, the maximum project costs cannot exceed $29,293,763, including maximum construction costs on a new portion of the building of $13,296,590.

• The buildings and grounds committee will meet at noon Thursday to discuss entering into a project labor agreement, or PLA, that would include hiring local union tradesmen for construction of the three school projects.

Two local union tradesmen have approached the board recently, asking that the district consider hiring those skilled laborers who live and pay taxes in the district and pay for the schools being built.

"We just want to have a fair chance at working on these projects," said Stanley Kalinowski of Cowanshannock. "There are many of us who are unemployed, and we feel that we should not be ignored when considering the building of these schools."

Solak suggested having a committee meeting Thursday to gather more information about the PLA, and district solicitor Gary Matta said he would work with the trade unions to expedite the drafting of an agreement for consideration before bids for the Elderton school project go out on Feb. 3.

"These things take time, and we will try to put something together quickly so that there is time to have the board decide before the bid date," Solak said. "We are interested in being fair and doing everything we can to help the taxpayers of the district."



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