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SCHOOL CONSULTANT SAYS BUSING MAY NEED TO BE PRIVATIZED

North Tonawanda's school busing program needs major repairs, and if it cannot be done, the district should consider getting out of the student transportation business, a consultant recommends.

The district's school busing program has been the target of many complaints in the past few years, and an in-depth study of the district's busing system by Transportation Advisory Services of Fairport found plenty wrong.

The consultants were hired to perform an efficiency study through an $8,000 state Education Department grant. School officials are still studying the report and have yet to comment.

The district has 22 vehicles to bus 750 students. In addition, the district contracts with two private busing firms to transport students, and 22 students have Metro Bus passes to attend out-of-district private or parochial schools.

Combined, the buses transport approximately 2,147 students.

The study notes that on July 1, 1996, the district's head bus driver retired and was replaced by a transportation supervisor hired from outside the district.

"The 1996-97 school year was characterized . . . by many changes initiated into the transportation program. Some of these changes led to disruption in the transportation program that caused turmoil with some of the staff and the community," says the report.

The district's operating cost per student was $1,026 for the 1996-97 year, compared to the statewide average of $474, and the upstate New York average of $466.

"North Tonawanda's cost per student is very unfavorable as compared to the standard comparative figures," the study said. "It would appear that the district could realize a financial savings through the privatization of the entire transportation program."

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