Charter schools negotiate transportation contracts with school district

mdelaney@bradenton.comMay 21, 2014 

Students load onto a Manatee County school bus. File photo/Grant Jefferies/Bradenton Herald

GRANT JEFFERIES

BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School District and five charter schools have reached an agreement on the amount charter schools will pay the district for transportation, after the district recalculated costs.

On Tuesday, charter schools signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to one of the district's two cost models. Four of out the five charters chose a cost-per-mile model. Just for Girls chose a cost-per-student model.

The school board will consider the memorandums of understanding at its next scheduled meeting, May 27. The board must approve the proposals before they can be finalized.

The district estimates it loses about $550,000 a year providing contracted bus services to Palmetto Charter, Just for Girls Academy, Manatee School for the Arts and State College of Florida Collegiate charter schools.

On Tuesday, the charter schools and district officials focused on finalizing language in each individual agreement, changing or tweaking words to fit agreements made in individual meetings Monday afternoon. In less than an hour Tuesday morning, four out of five memorandums were completed.

The district had recalculated costs and made slight changes to some of the variables presented Monday.

The district and charter schools agreed to charge $3.25 per mile, based on revised costs for the district.

The district gets a $375 transportation allocation per student from the state, which covers just about half of transportation costs. State law dictates the district shall cooperate in making arrangements to "ensure that transportation is not a barrier to equal access for all students residing within a reasonable distance of the charter school as determined by its charter."

Just for Girls is the only school that benefited from the cost-per-student formula and is the only school to choose that model.

Just for Girls transports 70 students at a cost of $50,439. When the allocation fee is factored in, it would cost Just for Girls $24,189 to transport students under the cost-per-student formula.

"For us, it was the best route and most cost-effective option," said Jennifer Rosenboom, school principal.

The school serves girls from kindergarten to grade four, but will open to girls in grade five next year. The school plans to continue expanding in com

ing years. The agreement allow Just For Girls to change its model in the future.

"As we keep adding grades, it'll come to a point where we'll have to change," said Cynthia Handrick, financial director.

The second model looks at cost per mile. The formula multiplies the cost per mile ­-- down to $3.25 per mile as opposed to $3.50 per mile -- by the number of bus miles traveled for each individual charter school and multiplies that number by 180 days in the school year. Then, again, the formula multiplies the transportation allocation by the number of students. The two numbers are subtracted to find the supplemental cost for the school.

For example, Manatee School for the Arts travels 592 miles a day for 180 days at a cost of $3.25 a mile totaling $346,320. When the allocation fee is factored in and subtracted, it would cost Manatee School for the Arts $2,070 to transport 918 students under the cost-per-mile formula.

Manatee School for the Arts, Palmetto Charter, Rowlett Elementary and the State College of Florida Collegiate Charter School all chose the cost per mile option. Manatee School for the Arts and State College of Florida Collegiate school will also help the district cover some of the costs for attendants, who monitor students at transportation hubs while the charter school students wait for shuttles. Manatee School for the Arts will pay $17,718 and SCF Collegiate will pay $10,631. The other charters will not contribute money toward attendants because they are not required.

The charter schools will pay the full fee for the 2014-15 school year. The district plans to revisit the costs next year and look for potential savings, said Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations.

"I've reviewed this plan and I fully support it," Superintendent Rick Mills said Tuesday morning, before slipping into another meeting and leaving the charters and other district officials to finalize the memorandums.

Once finalized and approved by the school board, the memorandums will serve as an addendum to the existing contracts negotiated between the district and the charter schools.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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