The State College Area School District in April ordered a study to explore transportation changes that would occur if the administration’s extended school day proposal is implemented. The results of the study reveal the potential need for additional buses, which would affect the district’s budget by about $1 million annually.
Tyler Technologies, of Latham, N.Y., was contracted by the district to conduct the study using the company’s Versatrans routing and planning software. Merle Winn, a Tyler consultant, conducted the study and delivered the results to the district last week.
The study was conducted using the extended school day proposal that Supervisor of Elementary Education Vernon Bock presented to the school board the week after the study was ordered.
If implemented, the school day would be extended by 54 minutes. The elementary start time would be moved from 8:44 a.m. back to 8 a.m. and the day would end at 3 p.m. instead of 2:50 p.m. Middle and high school students would start at 8:40 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m., and their day would end at 3:44 p.m. and 3:40 p.m. instead of 3:14 p.m. and 3:16 p.m., respectively.
The study of he SCASD presented a challenge because of the rural nature of the district and the busing needs of the charter and non-public school students, according to Winn. Each day, almost 6,000 students are transported throughout the 150-square-mile district to the elementary, middle and high schools. About 800 students are transported to the charter and non-public schools.
Using the extended day proposal, the result of the study revealed that there will be no available buses for the charter and non-public schools, according to Winn.
“With the scenario the district provided, there is a need for 10 additional buses, maybe even into the low teens,” Winn said. “But even scenarios that include transporting non-public school students will require additional buses.”
The study was conducted assuming that the charter and non-public schools would not change the start times and school day length, according to SCASD Superintendent Bob O’Donnell.
O’Donnell added that he has not spoken to all of the non-public and charter schools about the school day time change, but of those he has spoken to, all are open to the change.
To handle the current transportation needs, the district owns and operates 40 buses and contracts a total of 56 buses from Brown’s Busing, Cole Transportation, Confer Transportation and Long’s Motor Buses. The contracted buses cost the district about $2.6 million annually, but according to O’Donnell, each bus does not cost the same amount due to the varying length of the runs.
If the district purchases new buses to handle the need created by the extended day, Winn said each new bus could cost nearly $100,000 each, which could impact the district’s budget by $1 million.
“Within our internal planning, we knew that this change would result in some type of increase in transportation capacity,” O’Donnell said. “Our goal is to limit the amount of increase should the time change occur.”
The contract between Tyler Technologies and SCASD limits the total price for the study to $7,000, but O’Donnell said only about half of the budgeted amount has been used.
“Our team needs to spend some time with the information we’ve received from Merle,” O’Donnell said. “It’s early in that process and we’re not sure if there will be any further study work, but we have the ability to ask him for more feedback.”
Aside from the transportation budget increase, the extended day proposal necessitates the hiring of 10 staff members, which would cost the district about $850,000 per year. O’Donnell said an increase in state funding would cover about $600,000 of the new compensation packages, but source of the remaining $250,000 has not been finalized.
The increase in transportation expenses and the addition of 10 staff members could raise the cost of implementing the extended school day plan by more than $1 million annually, but O’Donnell said the district does not expect the budget impact will raise taxes or trigger a referendum vote under the Act 1 property tax cap law.
“If costs come in higher than what we planned for, then we have a problem that we either have to resolve or the proposal can’t move forward,” O’Donnell said.
An update on the transportation study and the budget impact of the extended day proposal will be presented to the board by the end of the summer, according to O’Donnell.
A final vote on the proposal is expected in October.