AUGUSTA — The Board of Education has unanimously approved a new five-year bus contract.

The contract, approved Wednesday at longtime Chairman William Burney’s last regular board meeting, will pay the company First Student about $1.63 million a year to continue transporting Augusta students to and from school through 2017.

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.

First Student, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, has been Augusta’s busing contractor for 11 years. The national firm transports about 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.

The new bus contract will provide two additional buses to allow all elementary school students to be picked up at school at the same time, providing more classroom instruction time.

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

Superintendent Cornelia Brown said the staggered release times contributed to the end of the elementary school day being unproductive learning time.

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

At Wednesday’s meeting, Burney asked about the financial and academic impact of the new bus contract.

Brown noted that the contract includes an extra $70,000 per bus, or $140,000 for the two additional buses. Any effect on academics is harder to measure, she said, but the move is expected to provide more classroom instruction time at the end of the day at the elementary schools.

“We’d like to recapture that time for academic benefit,” Brown said.

Burney, who did not seek reelection after 11 years on the Board of Education, said he has no plans to seek a return to elected office when his time on the school board is up.

His nearly 30-year run of public service in the city also included stints as mayor and city councilor. “Public service is a hallowed trust that the people of Augusta have bestowed upon me for almost 30 years,” Burney said. “I want to thank the people of Augusta for their trust in me. I’ve tried to work hard and uphold that trust.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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