AUGUSTA — School officials are poised to ink a new contract to keep the company First Student busing Augusta students into 2017 for about $1.63 million a year.

The busing contractor’s bid undercut the price of three other transportation firms, and also would be cheaper than the school department doing its own busing, officials estimated.

The proposal, up for a vote by the Board of Education on Wednesday, would allow all elementary school students to be picked up at their schools at the same time, providing more classroom instruction time for the district’s young students. Board members meet to consider approving the bus contract at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Cony High School.

Now, elementary students get out of school at staggered dismissal times, ranging from 2:45 to 3:15 p.m.

The new busing proposal, by adding two buses to First Student’s Augusta fleet, would allow all elementary students to be picked up at their schools at the same 3:15 p.m. dismissal time.

Superintendent Cornelia Brown said the universal pickup time means elementary students will spend more productive time in the classroom at the end of the day.

“We think that’s great,” Brown said. “By picking them up all at the same time, we’ll be able to capture that time for classroom instruction. It’s something teachers have asked for.”

Business Manager Karla Miller said First Student’s bid of $8.2 million for five years was $770,000 less than the next-lowest bidder, Student Transportation of America, and $2.9 million less than high bidder North America Central School Bus over five years.

The cost comparison is based upon 400,000 miles of busing per year.

In considering how to transport students, officials looked into whether it would be cheaper for Augusta to provide its own busing. Miller’s analysis indicated it would not.

Miller said the district would spend about $2.2 million per year to purchase its own bus fleet, including 27 72-passenger buses, two 46-passenger buses, two 24-passenger buses, and four seven-passenger vans, as well as providing office space and negotiating with and hiring drivers.

First Student, which has its headquarters in Cincinnati, has been Augusta’s busing contractor for 11 years. The national firm transports some 6 million students to and from school every day, according to its website.

Its previous five-year contract with Augusta, signed in 2006, was for $5.2 million.

Augusta budgeted $1.66 million for busing this year, for a one-year deal with First Student.

Board members are also scheduled to:

* Consider approving a new course, advanced health, as an elective at Cony;

* recognize Chairman William Burney, who did not seek re-election, for his 11 years serving on the board, as well as recognize the Augusta Elks Lodge for the donation of dictionaries to all third graders, and;

* consider nominations to extra-curricular positions.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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