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Bus changes ahead for Penn Hills district

Michael DiVittorio
| Monday, July 4, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Penn Hills School District parents should expect busing changes when classes resume as leaders slash transportation spending and update routes for almost 5,000 students.

The changes occur five years after the district privatized its busing service and struggled with transportation overspending that strained the budget.

“We have an obligation to bus to nonpublic schools that are within a 10-mile distance of the district boundary to that school,” said district technology director Roger Myers, who is helping to set up the routes. “We bus a lot of kids that go to outside schools.”

Letters containing bus stop information with times and locations will go to guardians around Aug. 1. Staffers were designing routes and consulting with the contractor “to maximize efficiency,” Myers said.

The district budgeted about $4.5 million for transportation next school year. The district enrolls about 4,000 students, but is required to transport about 4,800 students. The first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 24.

The board approved working with BME Transit of Penn Hills for 2016-17 and may enlist two other companies, district business Manager Robert Geletko said. The district stopped providing its own busing service June 30, 2011, when the board contracted with First Student Inc. as the transportation provider. The board at the time touted the move as a way to save money. However, there were myriad problems that year, from buses running 45 minutes late to not picking up students after school.

School directors ended the district's contract with First Student in 2014, opting to sign a five-year deal with AJ Myers & Sons Inc.

That agreement lasted two years after the district overspent on busing and state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale revealed more district transportation problems. The audit report showed the district's transportation expenditures went from $5.8 million in 2011-12 to $5.5 million in 2012-13, $6 million in 2013-14 and $8 million in 2014-15.

The district's 2014-15 budget allowed for about $4.6 million in transportation spending for 75 buses, bus monitors and fuel for the vehicles.

However, the district had 99 buses on the first day of school in 2014-15, and 111 buses on the last day of school. That pushed the district $4 million over its transportation budget.

Rosters show that full-size high school buses carried 18 to 67 students, with an average of 47 students per bus.

As for how the district expects not to overspend on transportation next year, Myers said, “Best practices are being used to maximize the return on the state subsidy, while trying to achieve the greatest efficiency in student loads and bus routes.”

The board approved a $82.7 million budget on June 27 with a 1.5-mill tax increase.

The owner of a property with the district's median home value of $68,800 would pay about $1,810 in property taxes next year — $103 more than 2015-16. Property owners may pay the tax bill over eight months for 2016-17, instead of seven months as they did last year.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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