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New bus company for District 518

WORTHINGTON --After much discussion among the board members at Tuesday's board meeting, the District 518 School Board voted unanimously to accept Bud's Bus Service as the transportation company, beginning in the fall.

"We're excited to start doing busing again," Bud's Bus Service Vice President Darin Fritz said following the meeting. "We're looking forward to working with everybody."

Bud's Bus Service had eight rural routes 12 years ago and still does charter busing for extracurricular activities for the district.

"I think we're going to do a much better job than the current company," Fritz said. "We're going to have a lot better equipment."

According to Director of Management Services Dave Skog, Bud's bid was $1,045,880. American Student Transportation's bid was $941,336. He explained those numbers only included the to and from school routes.

"Our fiscal responsibility is to protect our tax payers, and there is a bid law out there in the state of Minnesota, to protect the tax payer by accepting bids that are not the lowest bids," board member Brad Shaffer said. "In this case, given some of the situations that have occurred, I personally am willing to accept the risk of accepting the higher bid."

Board member Steven Schnieder echoed Shaffer's remarks.

"I've had a lot of concerns the last few years regarding the service we've received," he said. "I struggle a little bit with the dollar amount to pay extra, but everybody I've had contact me and I've talked about it, are more than willing to pay a higher rate.

"I haven't seen the performance I was expecting from the busing company," Schnieder continued, added there was no evidence that it would be any better moving forward. "For the benefit of our children and our district, we should try a different vendor and hope that we have better service."

Board member Scott Rosenberg pointed to specific examples.

"This has been the No. 1 concern and issue from the public and parents that I've received," Rosenberg said. "Even more than other issues that I would have expected more calls on.

"There are things they are not meeting in the current quote they are operating under, largely why I cannot support them," he continued. "School buses, so many of them are failing the inspection, which they had earlier this year. Deficiencies are not repaired in a timely manner, they are operating buses older than 15 years of age as well as the company was here and promised us a building and what the drivers were going to get paid. They can't find or keep drivers. From what I've been told by drivers, what they are being paid is less than what we were led to believe."

Rosenberg said it was difficult to get a hold of the company at times.

"I know about a month ago, personally we contacted and called a few different numbers and nobody would even return a call to let us know an answer for our question," he said. "There is a lot of articles they have not filled from my estimation from the last quote they are operating under."

Even though the board talked about the extra cost, member Joel Lorenz said money can't always be the only factor.

"The lowest cost is not always the best option," he said. "We don't hire the lowest paid superintendent or principal or teacher. Just because it's the lowest cost doesn't mean we'll support it."

Shaffer stated there may still be issues during the transition.

"I'm sure this is not an easy job to do to transport this many students," he said. "We hope everybody realizes there probably will be some transition issues. I'm sure all the issues will not be perfect starting out, but we hope everybody has the patience they had originally and we'll move forward from there."

The school board also gave the administration authority to begin making plans to move forward with a new intermediate school, as well as a new addition to the high school. That gave the authority to explore land acquisitions, if needed, as well as the beginning stages of planning of the building and addition.

"As much as I would like to see a new high school, I think it's the right way to go, I think the board's majority is to move ahead with an addition on the high school and move ahead with an intermediate school," Schnieder said, adding he wanted to see the process move along.

The board discussed options about waiting to see what became of the sports complex, but decided to move in another direction.

"I personally favor the high school option," board member Linden Olson said. "I think that with two options with the addition on the facility and the intermediate school option, it limits some of the future possibilities, particularly if the student population grows faster than we have, it will put in a bind rather quickly."

All agreed that something had to be done.

"I think the worst option we could take would be to do nothing," Shaffer said. "That's what I'm afraid of, if we try to do too much we're going to end up doing nothing."

The school board had earlier abandoned the negotiations for a piece of land --called Property A --for a location of a new high school.

"I've talked to the owner of the property and I do have a price from the owner as well as the investors, so we know where the dollar figure is," District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said. "It's not within the parameters there were given to me by the board, it's actually about $100,000 more."

Landgaard explained there are other issues as well.

"The problem that exists with this property is there are some agreements in place with tenants that create issues," he said. "I talked to the school attorney and them do a quick review of the lease agreements. Basically, what it comes down to is there is no language that says we can terminate those leases. Potentially it becomes a problem as you'd have to negotiate the termination of those leases."

Langaard said because of those barriers, he recommended to look for other options.

The board voted to drop the pursuit of the property.

Once the motion passed, Landgaard shared the property in question was the Northland Mall.

The board also approved the agreement with the city for property of Stower Drive, which will be used for a shed for buses.

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.