Columbia School Board reconsiders current transportation system

Friday, September 14, 2012 | 6:38 p.m. CDT; updated 12:56 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 12, 2013

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools are in the early stages of examining its transportation system.

Currently, the district contracts the services of First Student, which provides drivers and buses. The current contract with First Student will end after the 2013-14 school year, with an option for the Columbia School Board to approve a one-year extension.

That vote would come in the fall of 2013. Board Vice President Christine King said that if the contract is not extended, the district could either employ another company or take over the busing.

The district has been contracting buses since the 1970s, district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.

A factor in the transportation discussion is that bus routes will have to be adjusted to include Battle High School when it opens in August 2013. Schools also are being reconfigured to create intermediate schools for grades six through eight and send ninth-graders to high schools — a huge change scheduled to start next August.

King said First Student has not met the needs and expectations of the community over the past several years. Each year, it has continued to meet fewer and fewer needs, she said.

Baumstark said the district has received complaints that are all in the same vein from families about the company.

"Service is the biggest thing," she said.

"We (the district) believe, based on everything we do know, we could do it (provide transportation) more efficiently," King said.

A call to First Student Friday afternoon was not immediately returned.

If the district decides to control busing and not renew its contract, it would have to go through the process of hiring its own drivers and getting buses, Baumstark said. The district could either buy or lease the buses, she said.

Baumstark said that if the district goes in this direction, it would need to investigate which option would be most affordable and make the most sense.

Both Baumstark and King emphasized that these talks are in their preliminary stages. The district wants input from the community, Baumstark said.

A World Café meeting on the issue of transportation will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Stoney Creek Inn.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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