Penn Hills School Board picks primary bus company
Penn Hills School District officials have tapped Punxsutawney-based Krise Transportation as their primary bus company for the 2016-17 school year.
The vote to approve the new five-year deal was 6-2 at a special meeting Monday.
Board members Pauline Calabrese and Erin Vecchio dissented. Board member Donald Kuhn Jr. was absent.
Vecchio said a five-year deal was too long.
“I don't believe we should be giving anyone a five-year contract because of the last time we did this,” she said.
“We don't know if we're going to have enough money to pay our bills next year, let alone five years from now.”
Vecchio referenced an ongoing Allegheny County District Attorney's Office investigation into busing issues and other problems outlined in state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale's report released in May.
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 budgeted about $4.5 million for transportation next year.
Krise Transportation owner Tim Krise said the cost of the base contract, which runs through June 30, 2021, is just under $5 million.
Superintendent Nancy Hines said updated basic and special education state subsidy figures show the district will receive $550,000 more in revenue than previously budgeted, which will cover the additional base cost of the busing contract.
“We are pleased to be working with Mr. Krise,” Hines said. “While we understand that a system changeover such as this may have glitches, we are confident that we can keep any disruptions to a minimum.”
Krise said the contract includes 83 vehicles — 16 vans transporting nine students or less, 12 mini-buses and the rest full-size buses. The largest bus can carry 77 kids, he said.
All buses have state-of-the-art equipment including cameras that can record audio and video, he said.
Krise said he is looking to hire about 20 bus monitors to assist drivers, help special needs students and address disciplinary issues that may occur. He said the company also will employ approximately 100 drivers, six office staff members and at least four mechanics and trainers.
“You're hauling the most precious cargo and that's children,” Krise said.
One transportation problem outlined in the audit report involved the district not having background checks or proper documents for some bus drivers.
“Mr. Krise is well aware of the state guidelines regarding background checks,” Hines said. “We will keep copies of clearances as well, which is consistent with our modified practices.”
Krise said all Penn Hills buses will be at secure facilities within the district and will have Penn Hills decals instead of just the company name on their sides.
“I want to represent the school district in a good light,” said Krise.
The same bus numbers from previous routes will be used. Letters containing bus stop information with times and locations will go to parents and guardians in early August.
The bus terminal office is at 735 Saltsburg Road, and the company may lease 3 to 4 additional acres for its vehicles.
Krise said he is working with district staffers on routes and “it is not our objective or our focus to add any more buses.”
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 DePasquale revealed more district transportation problems. 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.
The board last month approved one-year deals with BME Transit and P.R.N. Transit Service to provide supplemental pupil transportation services for the 2016-17 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.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or firstname.lastname@example.org.