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Synstegaard aims to build transportation system for Park Rapids Schools

On Aug. 8, the transportation director gave the school board the first of what he said will be monthly reports going forward.

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Frank White Education Center
Park Rapids Enterprise file photo
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The Park Rapids School Board heard Monday that the school district’s new transportation director plans to give them a monthly update about the program.

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Dave Synstegaard
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

In comments to the Enterprise after the meeting, Transportation Director David Synstegaard gave three reasons for wanting to report more frequently than in the past. “One is, there’s about $1 million a year expenditure to the transportation department,” he said, “and I think it’s owed to the public that we’re transparent with what’s going on.

“Two, with the way the industry is going and labor and costs and everything that’s impacting the industry … I want to communicate and let everyone know what’s going on. And then, the third reason is, it kinda holds me accountable.”

In a PowerPoint presentation, Synstegaard reported his department currently has 20 full-time drivers, 12 substitutes with five “active,” and two full-time mechanics who can fill in as drivers in an emergency, though are both nearing retirement age.

He said the drivers average 58 years of age and are very experienced and safety conscious, but many of them are also nearing retirement. He reported a lack of substitute drivers who are ready to advance to full-time, since some of them have full-time jobs or are retired, and some only want to support activities.

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The vehicle fleet, he reported, includes 31 buses, with two soon to be retired, two Type A (84 passenger) vehicles, two wheelchair accessible vehicles, one 14-passenger “small bus,” two 10-passenger Suburbans, one wrecker and two cargo trailers.

With almost 900 riders, he said, there is a need for 21 full-time routes, with one being added for the 2022-23 school year. Routes range from 60 to 90 minutes and total approximately 290,000 miles per year. He projected an increased demand for transportation to and from activities as COVID restrictions are retired.

Regarding his goal to “evolve and sustain” his department’s operations, Synstegaard noted that in the past, its systems and processes were manual and paper driven, lacking consistent data, computers and a working office environment.

Trans Finder Plus routing software was purchased for the 2021-22 school year but has not been used to its full potential, he said. In addition to creating routes, he said it can be used to make contingency staffing plans, replan routes if a driver calls in and no subs are available, enable parents to locate buses and view stop schedules, monitor daily operations and communicate with staff.

Synstegaard laid out steps for creating a unified transportation system and reported progress so far, including creating an Ops board to keep track of routes, staff and equipment. He also laid out a recruiting strategy and stated a goal to invest in technology, such as GPS for buses and online registration for transportation requests.

General business

In consent items and general business, the school board:

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  • Approved the district’s safe learning plan for 2022-23. The plan features four main focus areas: health, safety and operations; instructional learning models, including in-person, hybrid and distant learning; student support, including special education, community education and crisis prevention; and extracurricular activities.
  • Wrote off negative lunch balances deemed uncollectable, totaling $1,766. 
  • Approved keeping school breakfast and lunch prices the same for the 2022-23 school year. Regular breakfast prices are free for kindergarten, $1.55 for grades 1-4, $1.80 for 5-12 and $2.50 for adults; regular lunch prices are $2.40 for K-4, $2.50 for 5-8, $2.70 for 9-12 and $4.35 for adults. All students qualifying for reduced meal prices eat for free.
  • Approved the retirement of high school paraprofessional Sue Litzau with regret and thanks for her 36 years of service to the school district. 
  • Accepted the resignation of Ali Antonez as an elementary paraprofessional.
  • Hired Dale Wilkins as a groundskeeper, Kameron Johnson as high school English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, Carmen Arellano as a Native American Education coordinator, Noah Macpherson as a volunteer football coach, Nichole Weston as a junior high volleyball coach, Codey Wolfe as a C team volleyball coach, Lindy Dalberg as a kindergarten teacher and Kali Mittness as a Century School ESL teacher.
  • Approved Brooke Jerger as a volunteer volleyball coach.
  • Approved a Native American Education coordinator contract for 2022-24 with Danette Larson.
  • Approved PAWN Special Education purchase-of-service agreements for 2022-23.
  • Approved allowing families access to supplemental accident insurance with K-12 Student Accident Insurance. 
  • Approved fundraisers for the 2022-23 school year.
  • Set a Truth in Taxation meeting for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19 at the Frank White Education Center.

The school board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22 at the Frank White Education Center.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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