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Park Rapids School Board approves new bus lease

The Park Rapids School Board on Monday approved a resolution authorizing a governmental lease-purchase agreement for three new school buses.

The three buses arrived last week and include a 65-passenger regular route bus, a 77-passenger regular route bus and an 84-passenger activities bus.

Total cost for the buses is $294,790 on a three-year lease with annual payments (principal and interest) of $76,958. The lease-purchase agreement begins this year and will be up in July 2020.

Bus driver shortage

Cindy Leach, Park Rapids transportation director, updated the board on the district's bus driver shortage going into the 2017-18 school year. Leach said Park Rapids is down five drivers since last spring, and with the addition of two special needs routes this year they are down seven drivers.

The group of drivers overall is aging and some have opted not to renew their licenses with two more looking to retire this fall, Leach explained. She said they only had one new driver come in last year. Two more came in this year with their bus licenses so Leach will be able to get them going on a route.

"We're not going to make what we need to cover everything, is how it's looking right now," Leach told the board. "We've been everything we can to go out there and find drivers."

She went on to explain bus driving isn't something people normally come forward to do and most have to be talked into driving.

"It's not like their poorly paid, the benefits are good, but it's split shifts and it's not for everybody."

Park Rapids pays $16.89 starting wage with full single paid health insurance for route drivers. Routes vary from two hours per day to 5.5 hours per day and drivers are eligible for extracurricular trips at $14/hour.

Leach explained part of the reason school districts have trouble getting drivers is what applicants have to go through to obtain a license. They have to fill out application paperwork, complete criminal background check, license check, study a book and take four written tests (general, school bus, passenger and air brake). Once they pass those the applicant must provide an original birth certificate. Then take a school bus physical at a cost to the applicant of $100, followed by a driving test in Bemidji or Detroit Lakes, and upgrade license to Class B with school bus, passenger, air brake endorsements. Those all come at the cost of the applicant. The physical is reimbursed after one year. Once all that is completed the applicant will drive the bus route with the trainer and students on board.

Leach shared with the board, "Who are our bus drivers?" They have business owners, firemen, helicopter pilot, retirees, moms, dads, pastoral staff and farmers... "And it could be you," she said.

Leach reiterated there are four trips scheduled the first week of school that at this point are not covered because there are not enough sub drivers available.

Superintendent Lance Bagstad said they are meeting with union reps to discuss a plan to use mechanics and custodial staff as substitute drivers when needed.

With the addition of the two special needs routes, one to Deer Creek, Park Rapids has 22 routes to cover 600 square miles.

Other business

The board approved the following on its consent agenda without discussion:

• Resignations of the following: Tom Marcussen, Food Services Director; Denise Hemenway, PAWN Special Secretary; Ian Johnson, Assistant Boys Hockey Coach; Kelly Citrowske, Homebound Teacher.

• Early Childhood Special Education Child Specific Paraprofessional, two days/week for 2017-18 school year.

• New hire Autumn Weber, Middle School Math Teacher

• Title I Certified Position, 0.5 FTE to 0.75

• Clay target coaches for Fall 2017-18

• Approved Truth in Taxation meeting date for Dec. 18 at 6 p.m., Frank White Education Center Community Room

• Contract for Audiology Services with Advantage Audiology

• Contract for Special Education and Behavioral Consultant, Sara Coumbe-Guida