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Busing contract approved by NLS

NEW LONDON -- The New London-Spicer School Board on Monday approved a two-year transportation contract with Russell's Bus Service of New London after an extended period of negotiating between the two parties.

With the approval, the district accepted a contract with Russell's of $1,797,736 that stretches over the 2009-11 school years. The contract also offers the possibility of a one- or two-year contract extension with rates agreed upon in advance.

Board member David Kilpatrick said the district's transportation committee "obtained competitive rates and a commitment to update" the bus fleet of Russell's during its renegotiations with the longtime local bus service provider.

Last week, Superintendent Paul Carlson told the Tribune the district transportation committee and Russell's had reached a tentative agreement on a transportation contract for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.

The two parties reopened negotiations Feb. 27 after NLS nearly awarded the transportation contract to American Student Transportation of Maple Grove during the Feb. 23 NLS School Board meeting.

NLS and Russell's had not been able to reach an agreement on a contract extension in November nor a new contract in February once NLS opened the contract to written quotations.

According to the Transportation Committee's presentation Monday, Russell's improved its offer by matching the regular service rate of American Student Transportation, including no increases in rates for extra-curricular activities busing, and by presenting a fuel clause that stipulates Russell's is solely responsible for fuel in the range of $2.50 to $3.50 per gallon. When gas goes above $3.50, Russell's and the district split fuel costs evenly. When gas is below $2.50, the district receives a credit.

Kilpatrick highlighted that if the district approved Russell's two-year deal and later decided to extend the contract, the district could save about $458, compared to the American Student Transportation contract offer.

According to the offer, Russell's will increase its service price by 2.5 percent during the 2010-11 school year but would only increase it annually by 2 percent in 2011-12 and 2012-13. On the contrary, Kilpatrick said American Student Transportation would increase its price by 2.5 percent each of the four years, totaling about $3,672,987 until 2013.

Kilpatrick said the Transportation Committee -- made up of himself, board member Mike O'Brien and Carlson -- listened to many community concerns about giving the contract to an out-of-town company and others asking for the district to spend its money wisely.

"I think the Transportation Committee minded both concerns," he said, also mentioning how "stability is attractive" in difficult economic times.

Prior to a roll call vote, the board thanked Kilpatrick and the absent O'Brien for their numerous hours of work on the negotiations of the contract. Kilpatrick said he would "never look at a bus the same way" after the time spent on contract negotiations.

The School Board approved the contract Monday with a 5-0 vote. Board members Robert Moller, Helena Lungstrom, Holli Cogelow-Ruter, Renee Nolting and Kilpatrick voted in favor. Board member Dan DeGeest abstained from voting and O'Brien was absent.

Board members also heard a report about the district's revised 2008-09 budget and a list of administration suggestions for budget cuts in 2009-10.

During the budget presentation, the administration presented 12 items that could amount to $320,133 in budget savings. Carlson said in a Feb. 24 interview the district anticipated at most $300,000 in budget reductions for 2009-10.

"It's never an easy time when we're talking about budget cuts," Moller said.

The School Board will further discuss the reductions at its March 23 meeting.