A new three-year contract with Student Transportation of America is one of Johnston Community School District’s initiatives aimed at reducing transportation costs and mitigating driver shortage.

A new three-year contract with Student Transportation of America is one of Johnston Community School District’s initiatives aimed at reducing transportation costs and mitigating driver shortage.

JOHNSTON, Iowa — Johnston Community School District has opted to outsource its school bus service, starting in the next school year.

At the Johnston school board’s April 25 meeting, board members voted to contract with Student Transportation of America (STA). Johnston Community School District’s transportation system, which is currently owned and operated by the district, will be converted to STA, which is a subsidiary of Student Transportation Inc.

The three-year contract begins July 1 and has an initial two-year extension. STA will purchase Johnston's current 78-vehicle fleet for about $1.5 million and will purchase 29 new buses in the first year to begin to upgrade the current fleet.

"This conversion in Johnston is a classic example of a public-private partnership where we'll be operating from the district's facility, inviting all the existing school district employees to join our STA family, while improving the quality and efficiency of the district's transportation system,” said David Prince, STA's vice president of operations, central region.

Johnston Community School District has been looking for ways to reduce transportation costs and to mitigate a shortage of school bus drivers. In addition to contracting out service, the district decided to implement walk zones of 1 mile from schools for the 2016-17 school year. Families that live within those zones will have the option of paying for school bus service, while those that live outside of the zones will continue to receive free service.

The school bus driver shortage this year has forced the Johnston transportation department to combine routes on short notice, which could lead to delays in pickup or drop-off, according to information posted on the district’s website.

The school board recently approved an attendance incentive program for its school bus drivers that went into effect from May 4 to June 2, the end of the school year. Drivers could earn bonuses ranging from $175 to $500, depending on how many hours they normally work and how many days they missed.

In looking to outsource transportation, Johnston officials said that one of their goals was for the contractor to hire current district school bus drivers. The regional driver shortage likely made that a necessity in any case.

STA said that Johnston’s current drivers and personnel will be given the first opportunity to work for the company. STA is also looking to bring in new applicants from the area.

The Johnston contract will increase Student Transportation Inc.’s revenues by $3.5 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2017. This is the company's first operation in Iowa.

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