First Student Inc.

At its August 13, 2013 meeting, the Board of Education approved a contract with First Student Inc. for student transportation services for the 2013-14 school year, officially marking the district's transition to a private company for bus drivers.

The district retains control of the management of its Transportation Department and will continue to own and maintain its school buses. The decision to subcontract for drivers was made as part of the revised 2013-14 budget proposal and as part of an effort to control costs for the long-term.

The decision is expected to save about $200,000 in pension and other employee costs in 2013-14.

First Student successfully responded to the district's request for competitive proposals in spring 2013. The Ohio-based company is one of the largest student transportation carriers in the country, and is currently working with 79 school districts in New York.

The contract specifies two levels of hourly rates - one for transportation to and from school and another for athletic and field trip runs. First Student's hourly rates are lower than the district's total hourly costs to employ bus drivers, including health insurance expenses and state pension system contributions.

The district had stipulated in its request for proposals that any transportation carrier would have to provide drivers who were working for the district as of last year the first opportunity for jobs. Many drivers who worked for the district in 2012-13 will be working for First Student in 2013-14.

The contract with First Student is for one school year, or 10 months. Under the agreement, it can be increased for up to four additional school years with the annual cost increase to the district limited to 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.

The district will continue to receive state aid on its transportation costs, including the costs of contracting with First Student.

"This is a step forward in cost containment for the district," said Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio. "It will help control costs while continuing high quality and safe transportation for our students. The First Student Management team and the district have been working together to prepare for the opening of the year."

Bus service for students and families

Transportation services for students will continue as they have in the past. Students will travel routes that are established by the district, on buses that are owned and maintained by the district. First Student will provide the drivers, although many previously worked for the district driving Niskayuna students to and from school safely every day.

As in the past, families will receive a letter prior to the start of school with information about their child's bus route, location of their bus stop, and pick-up and drop-off times.

Parents who have any questions about student transportation will continue to call the Transportation Department and in most cases will talk with the district's dispatcher or transportation director, Tom O'Donnell.

A focus on safety

First Student will follow all of the same state safety procedures required of Niskayuna and all other school districts do in New York State. This includes implementing a comprehensive safety training program for drivers and pre- and post-trip inspections of buses.

First Student is responsible for providing qualified drivers and driver trainers in accordance with district policies and expectations.

Hillside Avenue Property Purchase

The district recently finalized the acquisition of the bus garage property on Hillside Avenue, a purchase that was approved by voters last March. Although taking ownership of the property provides advantages for working with a private carrier, the decision to buy the bus garage property was always separate from outsourcing. The district needs a place to house its buses and for mechanics to work on them.

The purchase saves taxpayers money as a result of principal and interest payments that are less than the costs the district would have incurred to continue its lease of the facility. The district also receives state aid in the form of building aid on these payments.

First Student will lease space on the site from the district for offices, employee parking, and fueling stations, which will result in net revenue of about $50,000.