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Gouverneur Central School settles on transportation contract

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GOUVERNEUR — The Gouverneur Central School Board has awarded a five-year transportation contract with First Student that will significantly reduce the time pupils spend getting to and from school.

“We will begin working with school and community groups on the schedule,” Superintendent Lauren F. French said. “The primary beneficiary for time reduction is elementary students.”

First Student has long provided the district’s transportation system, but the district had not done a comprehensive review of bus runs for years. The board wanted to cut time spent on the bus, provide double trips so that elementary pupils were not on the bus with older students, and consider a late sports run.

First Student and Freeman Bus Corp. were the only two companies to bid on the job.

In February, the board rejected bids from First Student and Freeman, then the apparent low bidder, because Freeman made a transpositional error with a number.

“If they had corrected it, it wouldn’t have been in our favor,” Mrs. French said.

In the second round of bids, First Student was the low bidder at $7.37 million over five years.

“This is a little more than what we’re paying now, but we’re doing double trips,” Mrs. French said.

The introduction of double trips will reduce the time elementary pupils wait — sometimes up to a total of an hour per day — for a transfer bus, she said. High school and middle school students will have their own bus runs.

The school board also agreed at a meeting Monday to establish a $975,000 capital reserve fund in anticipation of a district-wide building improvement project that could cost around $26 million. The district’s last capital project ended in 2010. A presentation is scheduled for the April 7 board meeting.

The project, which is in the planning stages, could come before voters in November. The work would address safety issues, expand instructional areas, include a major renovation of the middle school, and comprehensive compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If approved by district voters, the board intends to place an initial $750,000 deposit in the reserve account, gathered from money it has been saving for that purpose. It would not require additional local taxes.

Additional money could be added to the capital reserve over time. The project could take four years to complete.

The board also intends to use $818,000 in leftover EXCEL aid, distributed to districts for capital projects, to keep the impact on local taxes minimal.

The vote on the capital reserve account will be a separate proposition from the district budget, which is still being developed.

The board is weighing whether to add staff to include an elementary reading teacher, an elementary classroom teacher, a secondary science, technology, engineering and math teacher, an English as a second language teacher, and two elementary and one secondary teachers’ assistants.

Adding the staff would enable class sizes to stay at an average number of 21 in the elementary schools and up to 25 in the secondary grades, Mrs. French said. Some of the positions could be place-holders depending on enrollments.

If all of the staff were added, the district would have to come up with $500,000 to cover the gap in the approximate $33 million budget. That would translate to a 1.72 percent tax levy increase.

Gouverneur is in a better financial position than many other districts because it started reducing staff in the 1980s based on enrollment, which is now at 1,684. It has eliminated 40 positions over 15 years mostly through attrition.

“It just worked out better than laying off 30 teachers in one year,” Mrs. French said.

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