At least 50 individuals attended the most recent Lonedell R-XIV School District Board of Education meeting to show their support for the locally owned and operated BK Bus Co. as the district decides what to do about its future student transportation needs.
Superintendent Fred VanBibber said the March 19 meeting had to be moved from the conference room inside the school to the gymnasium in order to accommodate the dozens of people who came to the meeting.
The Lonedell-based BK Bus Co.’s contract with the school district expires at the end of the current academic year. A contract extension was presented for the company to continue to serve the 300-plus student district at the same price as the current pact. However, a motion to extend it with modifications failed during the March meeting as did a motion to bid out the bus contract.
Finally, a motion for the district to renegotiate the contract with BK Bus was approved. It will be discussed again later this month.
“BK Bus was willing to continue to serve us at the same rate as before,” VanBibber told The Missourian. “They were willing to extend the contract at the same price. That’s what did not get the motion.
“It’s the board’s fiduciary responsibility to look at all contracts and do what’s best for the district. There’s a lot of money involved. We’re facing tough economic times. It’s our duty to look at all options and do what’s best for our community, the students and the taxpayers.”
This year’s contract between BK Bus and Lonedell R-XIV supplies six elementary, three high school and one special education routes for $401,382. The last two contracts between the district and the company have been signed for five years apiece.
VanBibber said Wayne and Judy Wagner, who manage the local bus service for owners Melvin and Kay Wagner, said they would be willing to renegotiate the contract and discuss it with the board during its next meeting.
“They said they would be willing to renegotiate their price and make financial concessions to the district,” VanBibber said. “That’s what the board will look at in April.”
The April board meeting is scheduled for the 16th of the month.
VanBibber said research has been done into Lonedell owning or leasing buses for the district.
“There would be some savings, but not that much,” he said. “We’re just looking at different things to make sure we do what’s best.”
Lonedell has been dealing with both decreasing funding and enrollment in recent years which factors into financial-based decisions.
Current enrollment is 312 students. Principal Jen Ulrich said that number has been declining for the past five years.
Ststistics provided by R-XIV showed the district had 367 students at the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year, and the number has dropped every year since.
“We are looking to continue our long-standing relationship with BK Bus,” VanBibber said. “They’ve provided us with reliable service for a long time. We just have to make sure we’re financially responsible with our money.”
VanBibber said Lonedell has used BK Bus for its transportation needs for more than 60 years. Originally called Boyd Bus Service, the relationship started in 1950. In 1974, when Melvin Wagner bought the company, it became BK Bus.
According to March meeting minutes, John Pursley and Dawn Moore addressed the board, asking members to consider the best interests of the community when discussing the bus contract.
Pursley reminded the board that not renewing with BK Bus would shut down a Lonedell business and affect many families in the community, including bus drivers and mechanics. Moore, a BK Bus driver, reminded the board of all the time and services the Wagner family has donated to the school and asked board members not to base their decision only on the dollar amount.
“I have lived in this community all my life,” said Moore, who also is the mother of two children who attend Lonedell School. “I spent my elementary years here at Lonedell and my high school years at St. Clair in which I was transported by BK Bus.”
She then proceeded to remind board members of some of the things BK Bus provides to the district and community, including the full-time, local mechanic, and that the company volunteers transportation to and from numerous extracurricular and special events.
“Our buses are local, and we have a full-time mechanic. If an issue arises, there is normally little to no wait time,” Moore said. “BK Bus and its drivers donate several times to events that our school participates in.
“... We feel that these points should be brought to your attention as you make the tough decision regarding the bus contract,” she said. “We feel as bus drivers that we do a great job transporting our kids and keeping in contact with the parents. The safety of our kids is our main concern, and we hope when making the decision that it is not made solely on a dollar amount.”
Board President Steve Heideman assured those in attendance that board members will consider all aspects of the bus contract before making a final decision.