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Monday, July 7, 2014

Despite complaints and questions, Nashua approves five-year school bus contract

NASHUA – Despite busing complaints from a number of parents, the Nashua school board has given its longtime busing company a new five-year contract and a significant raise.

Last Monday, the Board of Education approved a new contract with First Student Inc., the largest school bus company in North America. ...

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NASHUA – Despite busing complaints from a number of parents, the Nashua school board has given its longtime busing company a new five-year contract and a significant raise.

Last Monday, the Board of Education approved a new contract with First Student Inc., the largest school bus company in North America.

In fiscal year 2014, First Student will be paid $4.6 million to transport Nashua students. The new contract increases the yearly rate to $5.1 million for 2015, with more money to be paid in subsequent years. In total, First Student will be paid $28.4 million for the five-year contract, or an average of $5.7 million a year.

Earlier this month, parents complained about the bus company’s performance.

School Finance and Operations Committee chair Steven Haas said after bus routes changed, particularly around the Kessler Farms area, parents complained that substitute bus drivers would sometimes follow the previous routes, arriving too late or too early to some stops and missing other stops altogether.

Board clerk Kimberly Smith Muise said she fielded complaints about district busing as well, but the concerns were not from any one area. For instance, she said community members reported buses idling at schools between routes when they felt the buses should be put to use.

Member Sandra Ziehm thought the complaints were a result of last year’s budget cuts stretching the transportation department too thin.

“I went back to the budget and thought we might have nickel-and-dimed them to death. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d like to find one.”

Member Robert Hallowell said board members need more information before addressing community concerns.

“There’s clearly something going on, but we need the data,” he said.

Superintendent Mark Conrad and Dan Donovan, the district’s chief financial officer, are working on a setting up a method of tracking transportation data and responding to complaints.

“At this time, the transportation department doesn’t log complaints,” Haas said. “They’re going to log complaints.”

The contract covers the daily transportation of 8,000 regular-education and 450 special-education students, and includes field trips, athletic events and Nashua charter school transportation for city residents.

Muise said the contract has a specific clause stating that if the bus company cannot provide a driver for the day, the district can “charge back” and receive some form of refund. “We’ve had shortages of bus drivers in the past, so I want to see how much that’s worth,” she said.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.
com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).