School Board approves new MSD Transportation Department

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Assistant Superintendent Forrest Ransdell on March 25, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, NH – On Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee budgeted a total of $4,230,103.10 toward the creation of a Manchester School District (MSD) Transportation Department for the 2024/25 School Year.

Last fall, MSD transitioned from using the Manchester Transit Authority (MTA) for its student transportation services to a mixture of the MTA and an outside company called Student Transportation of America (STA). However, confusion between MSD and STA led to difficulties early in the school year. The new department would replace both the MTA and STA, placing all bus transportation for students to schools, field trips, athletic events and other educational transportation needs.

MSD Assistant Superintendent Forrest Ransdell said that this move would provide higher quality services for district students and significant cost savings.

“This is about controlling of (transportation quality), this has been an issue and a problem for several years,” said Ransdell.

Those savings would be particularly felt around specialized transportation in situations such as special needs students and McKinney-Vento students, estimating that those types of transportation currently cost the district approximately $10-12 million per year. Current MSD Transportation Director Kelly Hebert believed that figure was even higher, stating that there are currently 2,000 students utilizing specialized education transportation.

The proposed department was modeled after the Worcester, Mass., School District’s transportation program, with the MTA also providing organizational and fiscal recommendations in the new department’s planning process.

Hebert will be joined by four new management employees and 46 bus drivers leading to a total of $3,130,133.10 in expected personnel costs.

“I believe we are going to significantly change the model of employing bus drivers in New Hampshire,” said Ransdell regarding the possibility of providing benefits to drivers unlike other districts.


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School Board member Peter Argeropoulos on March 25, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

At-Large BOSC Member Peter Argeropoulos referred to the last several years as an “absolute disaster” when it comes to transportation, stating his concern regarding the work that will go into starting this department while realizing MSD has already put in a significant amount of work trying to make the district’s current transportation plan feasible.

“I think this is going to be the way to go,” said Argeropoulos, who made a motion to approve the proposal.

Ward 9 BOSC Member Bob Baines also praised the concept, expressing frustration with the need for changes to carpooling policies for sporting events, given the lack of existing transportation.

“I look at this as a very bold recommendation, I think it’s the right time to do it and it’s being done for the right reasons,” said Baines.

Ward 1 school board member Julie Turner asked if the need for “double” runs where buses would return for a second route after finishing their first route would still be needed if drivers could not be hired, with Ransdell answering that he is confident that drivers will be hired and the possibility of hiring drivers would be more under the district’s control under this approach.

While Turner had voted against in-house transportation in the past, she praised At-Large BOSC Member Jim O’Connell’s efforts toward pushing toward a new approach and noted her opinion had changed after the difficulties earlier in the school year.

A new contract with the MTA for the storage, maintenance and fueling of MSD Transportation Department buses for the next two years is in the final preparation stages and will be presented for approval at the April Finance and Facilities Meeting. Due to infrastructural changes at MTA facilities, a new fleet storage, maintenance and fueling area would need to be found for the department after the two-year contract concludes.


 

About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.