Report: 2 bus runs would save money

MERRIMACK – Two runs and a sixth degree of separation.

The School Board on Monday received a committee report that showed it is economically feasible to go back from three to two school bus runs. Better still, the report also showed it’s possible to separate sixth- and fifth-graders from younger elementary school students.

Of parents who returned a transportation survey, 70 percent said they didn’t want upper elementary school students riding the same buses as students in Readiness through grade 4.

The school Planning and Building Committee presented a report to the board that showed two options, both with two bus runs.

Each option costs less than the $1.46 million the school district is currently spending for transportation with three bus runs.

The committee’s report suggested replacing “regular” buses with larger buses for a portion of its bus fleet. However, to do that, the board would have to compile a proposal by Dec. 22 with Laidlaw Transportation Co., the private bus company it contracts with.

“I’m very worried about the Dec. 22 date. I don’t see how we can put that together,” School Board Chairman Ken Coleman said.

However, Coleman said the board can hold off making a decision about larger buses until next year, because the school district can add more buses and use two runs without breaking the budget.

“Our current budget gets us back to two runs,” Coleman said.

Board members Emily Coburn and David Denton will serve as the board’s liaisons on the issue, and will work with school administrators and the Planning and Building Committee to bring more information back to the board in two weeks.

The board is expected to approve a transportation plan this winter that would allow a school schedule closer to the one the district had two years ago.

In September, the board charged the committee with studying whether it would be economically feasible to go back to two bus runs for the 2005-06 school year. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the committee was to build on last year’s study done by the transportation committee and would work closely with Laidlaw officials.

Last year, to accommodate two new schools, the board added a third bus run, based on estimates of student populations. One result: high school classes this year have started 10 minutes earlier and the school district’s last classes – for grades 5 and 6 – have been dismissed 25 minutes later than before.

This year, school officials wanted to see if they could turn back the clock next year to a schedule closer to how things were last year without increasing transportation costs.