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April 12, 2012  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Forging a successful partnership

The strain of managing an in-house transportation department was running Hempfield Area School District ragged. Contracting out to First Student brought equipment and safety improvements, all while cutting costs.

by Brittany-Marie Swanson

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Dan Maybury, a First Student service manager, works on buses running in Hempfield Area School District.

Dan Maybury, a First Student service manager, works on buses running in Hempfield Area School District.

In a time when many districts are facing serious budget crunches, Hempfield Area School District in Greensburg, Pa., is planning to save between $200,000 and $300,000 annually, thanks to a five-year contract with First Student.

Additionally, the district received a $1.3 million cash infusion by selling its entire fleet to the contractor.

“That extra money will come in handy at our schools,” says Jude Abraham, chief business administrator for the district.

Keeping the staff on board
One of the concerns district officials had about continuing to run an in-house pupil transportation program was the expense of employing administrators and other staff, such as drivers. Even part-time employees were eligible for pensions and healthcare, an added expense for the district.

Luckily, Abraham says, approximately 90 percent of the district’s employees moved to First Student when the contract went into effect on Oct. 1, 2010.

“We were actually able to save money by going to First Student, and First Student was able to keep the wages the same as the employees were making here at Hempfield, so they didn’t need to take a wage cut,” he adds.

Gary Catapano, First Student’s senior vice president of safety, says the new partnership has been highly successful.

“Basically almost all the drivers ended up coming to work for us, and the management team that was running the operation for the district also came on board and is working with us,” Catapano explains. “It was a seamless transition.”

New contract means new buses
After purchasing Hempfield’s aging fleet, First Student made significant upgrades to the equipment and purchased seven new buses.

“They buy us approximately 10 percent of our fleet per year of the contract. So, we received seven new buses last year and expect to receive seven new buses every year of the contract with First Student,” Abraham says.

First Student currently operates 60 Type C buses and 10 Type A buses for the district. The newly purchased buses are Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner C2s, which Catapano says offer many new safety features that better protect students. The contractor also purchased new Type A buses from Collins Bus Corp.

By the end of the district’s contract, at least half of the fleet will be brand new, Catapano says.

“I think [the district was] really struggling with an aging fleet that had a high maintenance cost per mile associated with it,” he adds. The new arrangement has alleviated those costs.

First Student improves safety
Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner C2s have large windshields and hoods that are shorter than those on a conventional bus, dramatically improving visibility for drivers, Catapano says.

“There are a bunch of features that the folks from Thomas have built into that bus that we really liked,” he says.

First Student also added some features to the buses to improve safety. The contractor worked with Child Check-Mate System to develop an upgraded version of Child Check-Mate that includes Theft Mate, a system that serves as an intrusion detection device.

Theft Mate, Catapano says, “lets us know if someone attempts to board the bus after we’ve got it parked.”

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