School bus
The school board approved a five-year transportation contract extension with Mid Columbia Bus Co. (Getty Images)

The Philomath School Board during a Dec. 14 meeting approved a five-year extension of its transportation contract with Mid Columbia Bus Co., with an option that could include the future installation of GPS units.

The current contract with the bus transportation company was set to expire June 30 but with the approval, that has been extended to that same date in 2026. Mid Columbia’s Philomath operation includes a fleet of 14 buses.

In the first year of the extended contract, the district agreed to pay a 2.5% increase above the current rates and in the years thereafter, the increase would be based on the Consumer Price Index with a cap of no more than 3%. One exception would be if the district decides to move forward with the installation of GPS units. In the year that happens, the increase would be 3.5%.

The 2.5% increase in Year 1 will help the bus company re-establish its fleet of drivers. Bill Mancuso, the district’s director of finance and operations, said that as of Dec. 14, the CPI was at about 1.8%. Mid Columbia will use the extra 0.7% to cover expenses with hiring.

“The total difference is less than $10,000 when you cost it all out,” Mancuso said. “He said he’d be OK with it either way, but I think it might help them attract some bus drivers who basically haven’t been working since March. They laid everybody off as soon as we had to shut down school.

“Some of them have taken other jobs because they thought they’d be back in September and unfortunately that didn’t happen, so I think there’s some cost involved in attracting some talent to drive the buses for us,” he added.

The school district originally hired Mid Columbia for bus services on a five-year deal in 2010 and a six-year extension followed to bring it up to 2021. At the time of those extension talks, Mid Columbia shared that they would replace nine buses in the Philomath fleet with those fueled by liquid propone.

The school board had the option of declining Mid Columbia’s proposal and taking transportation services out to bid to receive proposals from other companies.

The school board briefly discussed what the pros and cons might be for the installation of Global Positioning Systems on buses. In basic terms, they simply allow Mid Columbia and the school district to know where buses are at all times — not only those on regular routes but on longer trips involving extracurricular and athletic activities.

School Superintendent Susan Halliday said she believes that further conversations would be needed on the possibilities. School board member Greg Gerding said it would be great to know where every bus is at any given time and likes the concept, but had technology-related questions.

Currently, bus drivers who experience an emergency or issue of some sort contact Mid Columbia, who then in turn calls the appropriate school. With office phones occasionally not picked up, Halliday said the bus company does have the cellphone numbers of key personnel to get through.

School board member Anton Grube asked if the district was locked into definitely adding the GPS units based on the wording of the agreement. The superintendent needs more information and the board may discuss the matter further.

Mancuso said that had not been discussed, but added that Mid Columbia “has been cooperative and flexible. I think they just wanted to make sure if we decided to do it, they wanted to build it in to cover the cost.”

The motion to approve the extension passed on a 4-0 vote (Karen Skinkis absent).

“Philomath School District and Mid Columbia Bus have formed an excellent partnership to provide transportation services to the students and parents of Philomath and surrounding communities,” Region Vice President Brian Shuldberg wrote in a proposal letter. “Our drivers are dedicated to the students of Philomath and work diligently to ensure their safety.”