The Shawnee Mission School District will change school bus companies next fall after continued concerns from parents and staff about late and missed student pickups from its current contractor.
School board members voted unanimously Monday night to award Bonner Springs-based DS Bus Lines Inc. a five-year contract, beginning in August. The value of the contract is estimated at $63.7 million over five years, more than $500,000 higher than the bid of the current operator, First Student Inc.
Assistant Superintendent Rick Atha said cost was not the district’s sole criteria in awarding the contract. Atha said the district has documented more than 600 cases in the current school year alone of First Student buses picking up students up to an hour and a half late or not picking them up at all.
He added that the company has been unable to provide documentation proving it held bus safety drills for 13 elementary schools and a middle school, as required by the Kansas Department of Education.
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“As a result, the Shawnee Mission School District may receive a negative audit for bus safety for this year,” Atha said.
Officials with First Student acknowledged to the board that their operations have been hampered in recent years by a nationwide shortage of commercial drivers, as well as low unemployment, which has increased competition for part-time workers.
Last year, the company persuaded the district to increase its contract by $791,130 to increase salaries to help driver recruitment.
Chris Coyle, area general manager for First Student, said the company has made progress and is now averaging 97 percent on-time arrivals and has seen a 68 percent decrease in late occurrences.
“I submitted to the board last June that we had some struggles, and I took responsibility for that,” Coyle said. “But I also said that we were going to work hard at getting this year to be an excellent start and we accomplished that.”
More than a dozen First Student drivers, trainers and fellow executives also addressed the board to highlight their close relationships with district students and parents and defending the company’s safety record.
“We get to know each of the students by name,” said driver Nick Hadley of Merriam. “As a parent knows, when their child hops on my bus they’re my child during the duration of the bus trip. They feel very safe that their kid is in good hands.”
Following the meeting, Roger Moore, senior vice president for First Student, said he was disappointed and questioned whether DS Bus Lines had the capacity to be ready to take over the district’s 198 routes by the fall.
He said First Student would try to find jobs for its Shawnee Mission employees at its other area operations.
Some of those drivers may end up with the new company, however, said Scott Kincaid, an officer with DS Bus Lines.
The company is part of the Kincaid Group, whose owner, Don Kincaid, provided school bus services for Shawnee Mission for more than 20 years until 2000, when he sold the school bus business.
Scott Kincaid, his son, said the company is prepared to take over the contract and already provides school bus services in Beloit and Lincoln, Kan.; Belton, Mo.; and districts in Texas, Colorado, Alabama and North Carolina.
“The drivers are the most important employee within DS Bus,” Scott Kincaid said. “I think that’s what we need the drivers to appreciate and get used to our family culture and family environment. This isn’t something new to us. We’ve done this for many years.”
In other business:
▪ District staff said they plan to unveil a recommendation next month to adjust the attendance boundaries for a handful of elementary schools to deal with overcrowding and adjust for new schools opening.
The affected schools include Benninghoven, Christa McAuliffe, Mill Creek, Shawanoe, Rising Star, East Antioch and Overland Park Elementary.
Only the changes at East Antioch and Overland Park Elementary are expected to affect middle school feeder patterns. Fifth graders at the schools will have the option to remain at their current schools, although the direct will not provide transportation services.
The district also does not plan to grant any transfer requests for the affected schools during the 2017-2018 school year.
If the board signs off on the plan at its March 27 meeting, the district will notify affected students and their families in April.
▪ The board also approved a three-year contract with Marathon Health LLC to operate a clinic for district employees. Staff said the clinic, scheduled to open by August, would provide basic health services and would hopefully reduce the district’s medical expenses.
Marathon already operates employee health centers in Overland Park and Olathe, as well as health centers in nine other school districts across the country, said chief executive Jerry Ford.
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