Manatee School for the Arts to run bus fleet using surplus Manatee County school buses

In this file photo, students board Manatee County School District buses at King Middle School.
In this file photo, students board Manatee County School District buses at King Middle School. FILE PHOTO

After two years of negotiation and compromise, the Manatee County School District is donating 20 surplus school buses to Manatee School for the Arts to start its own bus fleet for the 2016-17 school year.

As a cost-cutting measure two years ago, the district began exploring ways to cut down on the additional cost charter schools caused the transportation department. Under state statute, school districts may provide transportation for charter schools but are not required to do so. Of 12 district charter schools, two provide no transportation, five provide transportation and five rely on district transportation.

With the donation to MSA, the district will be responsible for busing students for three fewer charter schools, as MSA will transport students from Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication and Palmetto Charter School, as well as MSA students.

“It was a little bit painful in the beginning stages because none of us knew exactly what was going to happen,” said MSA Principal Bill Jones. “It’s actually worked out pretty well.”

The Manatee County School Board will formally approve the measure during a meeting Tuesday, but Jones said he’s already got the buses in hand and has passed them off to A&S Transportation, a Florida-based company that has made its mark by providing transportation for charter and private schools.

Daniel Stumpfhauser, vice president of A&S, estimated about 95 percent of the company’s business comes from charter schools. Stumpfhauser said public schools are very good at transporting children who live between 2 and 4 miles from their school, but charters have to compete across the county for students. Providing reliable transportation can be a big sell to enrolling more students in charters.

“We work with charters to really focus on and customize their transportation,” he said.

MSA will lease its 20 buses to A&S, and A&S will maintain the buses, devise the bus routes and hire and maintain drivers. Jones said the agreement with A&S helps take some of the burden off MSA and is cheaper than continuing to pay the school district money to transport the charter students.

“In the long run, I think it’ll be worth it to us,” Jones said.

He’s hoping that having their own fleet of buses will cut down on how often students are dropped off late in the morning and in the evening. Under the previous system, Manatee County School District buses would start charter routes after dropping off students attending traditional schools, and any delays or backups would have a huge effect on the charter students.

Superintendent Diana Greene has noted that being able to get students to and from school on time is a big priority.

To that end, the school board will also consider a $215,880 contract with TripSpark, a Canadian software company that helps analyze routes for more efficiency. The board will also vote on the TripSpark contract Tuesday.

“The district’s current system is comprised of the three different programs whose designs have become outdated and not able to achieve the desired results that is needed for a district of our size,” the school board agenda states. “TripSpark Technology offers a single source, end-to-end solution producing route schedules using a multi-term, calendar-based software, monitor and display real time routes and stops versus actual data and give drivers turn by turn directions on the same map view at the central office. “

The $215,000 contract includes costs for licensing, hardware and installation. If the board approves the first contract and wants to continue the service, the price would drop in the second year to $97,000 for software maintenance and support.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney