MOUNT VERNON – The Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education approved a contract between the school district and Knox Area Transit on Monday night that will increase the per-mile fee for student ridership over the next nine months.
Under last year’s contract, the district paid $2.01 per student per mile for the first three miles, according to Pam Rose, director of student services. Mileage is calculated by measuring the distance between a student’s house and the school they attend.
Under the new contract, which runs from April 1 to Dec. 31, that per-mile rate increases to $2.63 for the first three miles.
The board appeared to be surprised by the increase when the new contract was presented at the Feb. 11 meeting, and no action was taken. After further discussion with KAT, the board approved the contract on Monday.
Mount Vernon City Schools contracts with KAT to transport students with physical or behavioral disabilities, Rose said. A team of district advisors determines whether or not a student is eligible for daily KAT transportation based on their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The district has only one handicap-accessible school bus, Rose said.
The door-to-door shuttle system also travels to Fredericktown’s homeless shelter to bring students back to their Mount Vernon school, so they don’t have to transfer during short-term stays.
“We try our best to keep our students that are homeless in their home school, to keep something consistent in their lives,” Rose said.
In addition, KAT will respond to district transportation requests for off-campus activities. Recently, KAT took a class of visually impaired students to the bowling alley for an afternoon. Instead of using the hulking, oversized yellow buses, MVCS uses KAT shuttles to take first graders to YES concerts at the Memorial Building.
In between regular runs, Rose said, KAT has always made time for the school district.
“They provide those kids of incidental services, too, that are kind of on top of this,” said Rose, who handles district communication with KAT.
According to Rose, KAT currently transports 47 Mount Vernon students, grades K-12, to and from school each day. KAT shift leader Donna Hostetler said shuttles typically travel a total of 20 miles each morning taking students to school.
KAT’s fee structure is set by the Ohio Department of Transportation, Hostetler said. The 62-cent cost increase can be attributed partially to added technology in the buses, she noted, including security cameras and tablets that make it more efficient to chart routes.
Hostetler believes local school districts will eventually break even, however, because KAT recently purchased a bigger bus – holding 18 seats instead of nine – that will be used for student transportation. Previously, two smaller vehicles picked up students. Using the new bus will allow KAT to be more efficient with mileage, which could save districts money in the long run.
MVCS officials are unsure how the price change might affect the district financially. The number of students with KAT eligibility changes every year, treasurer Judy Forney said, making it difficult to estimate how much it would cost in the future.
“I mean, we know it’s going to be more per mile and per student, but we don’t know because we don’t know how many kids are going to be riding,” Forney said.
“Those IEPs for students are renewed every year, so that number never stays the same,” Rose added. “Some students no longer need that, and then there’s other kids that will start needing it for whatever their handicap is.”
The district receives state and federal funding for special education programs, Forney said, but that fund often runs dry by the time the school year is over. When that happens, the district must use general fund money to take care of basic needs.
“Those special ed funds that we get certainly do not cover the cost,” Rose said. “Those costs are going towards salaries and their equipment, and things in the classroom, as well as any transportation.”
Hostetler said all local school districts agreed to the new contract terms this spring. In a way, she added, KAT is the only practical option for most school districts with niché transportation needs.
On Monday, Rose presented the board with a calculation of what it would cost for the district to privately hire drivers to transport students – a possible alternative to KAT. She estimated it would cost $65,000 per vehicle, in addition to driver salaries, benefits, fuel and maintenance costs.
“The district would need at least four vehicles to run daily routes as they stand today,” Rose added. “Drivers would have both morning and afternoon routes.”
Board president Margie Bennett commended Rose for looking into the issue, and the board voted to approve the new contract without further discussion.
In other business, the school board:
- Recognized kindergarten volunteer Linda Davis as the Columbia Elementary “Behind-the-Scenes” Person.
- Approved the date and location for this spring’s graduation ceremony; it will be held Sunday, May 26 at the Kenyon College Athletic Center.
- Scheduled a joint meeting between the City of Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon Nazarene University and Mount Vernon City Schools to discuss developments in the Education Gateway Project. The meeting will be held at Twin Oak Elementary on April 10 at 6 p.m.
- Approved the retirement of Cheri Murphy, social studies teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School, effective May 31.
- Approved the resignation of Ryan Ball (assistant football coach), Samantha LaBenne (assistant girls’ tennis coach), Lauren Hollis Smith (assistant girls’ track coach), and Judy Forney (district treasurer). Gary Hankins, former Mount Vernon Middle School principal, will take over as interim treasurer after the current school year ends.
- Approved the employment of five substitute teachers and three coaches.