School bus service gets more expensive for Kodiak

School buses await students and drivers Wednesday evening, August 24, 2011 at the bus lot on Mill Bay Road. The Kodiak Island Borough School District's contract with First Student, the sole bus provider on the island, is becoming more expensive.

(James Brooks photo)

KODIAK — The traditional yellow school buses students ride as they return to school this week are getting more expensive for the school district.

The Kodiak Island Borough School District Board of Education approved a budget Monday with school bus route increases ranging from 25 to 40 percent, adding more than $300,000 to transportation costs from a year ago.

“We took on a (request for proposals) this spring where our people transportation cost increased quite dramatically,” district cief financial officer Luke Fulp told the school board in early August.

The steep increase in costs will be met through a combination of fund balance and general fund contributions, which will be added to money provided by the state of Alaska for student transportation.

This is in contrast to the past three years, when state funding nearly met or exceeded what was needed to transport students.

Fulp attributed the cost increase to the absence of competition in the bidding process on the island. The contract with First Student also calculates increased costs to replace buses which tend to have shorter lives in Kodiak’s wet maritime climate.

“They’ve also made mention of increased employee costs,” Fulp said.

He said cost increases have affected school districts across the state.

“It’s quite a bit more that we’re having to pay out to support this program and the state’s taking notice on this,” Fulp said.

The Kodiak Island Borough School District did attempt to reduce costs of the transportation program this year by offering a stipend for parents of Chinak students to bring them into Kodiak for high school classes. This would have eliminated one bus route for a savings of $37,000.

“Unfortunately for some of our families, they couldn’t make that work, so we got this bus route up and going,” Fulp told the board Monday.

The Chiniak School serves K-10th-grade students. One of the savings options when the district was preparing for more than $1 million in cuts this year was to expand the educational opportunities at the Chiniak School and make it a K-12, thus eliminating the need to bus students from Chiniak.

Contact Mirror writer Wes Hanna at whanna@kodiak

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