INDIANAPOLIS — Students attending the Gary Community School Corp. in the fall will ride to class on all-new school buses thanks to a transportation contract approved Monday that also saves the cash-strapped district more than $1 million a year.
The Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board unanimously agreed with the recommendation of the district's emergency manager to retain Illinois Central School Bus as the transportation provider for Gary elementary and high school students.
Under the five-year deal, the district annually will spend approximately $3.4 million on student bus transportation.
That's $1.1 million less per year than the district pays under its current contract with Illinois Central.
In addition, the bus company has agreed to replace its average 10-year-old bus fleet with new buses, and contribute $75,000 a year to support programs in the Gary school district.
Leonard Moody, the district's chief financial officer, said Gary was able to get better terms for its transportation contract because the district is paying its bills on time since the state takeover in August, which spurred actual competition to provide bus service.
"In the past, people didn't want to do business with us, because they didn't think they would ever get paid," Moody said.
Three companies — Illinois Central, Transportation for All and First Student — submitted final offers to the district.
Illinois Central not only quoted the lowest rates, but also pledged new buses and more school support than the other two, according to data presented to DUAB.
Moody said the district had hoped to save about $600,000 on its new bus contract and service changes prompted by the move to a single high school.
He said the extra savings may help Gary schools get closer to eliminating its $18 million annual deficit and achieving a balanced budget sooner than the end of 2019.