Brownwood school trustees approved Monday night a proposal to contract with Student Transportation Specialists of McKinney for student transportation, a move that may help free enough funds so the district can purchase a new school bus.

Assistant Superintendent Kevin Gabaree told the board prior to its unanimous vote that he and the business office had carefully examined the five budget categories that involve transportation, and that the district figures to spend $644,744 next year without contracting for services. The STS contract is for $571,702, representing a $70,000 savings.

“And that is without the bus purchase savings, and without the revenue from outside bus trips by other groups,” Gabaree said.

As part of the proposal, STS will base four of its modern luxury coaches in Brownwood for first-call use by Brownwood schools. That aspect will eliminate the “deadhead” costs of bringing buses in from other cities, generally cutting expenses in half. Meanwhile, those four coaches will also be available for use by other schools, organizations and churches, and the school district will receive a 7.5 percent rebate on those revenues.

School board members said they believe the reduced costs of motor coaches will prompt many entities to use them.

The school district will retain ownership of its yellow bus fleet, and will be able to use the volume discounts STS enjoys when it buys new buses.

“I feel we could purchase a new bus for $95,000,” Gabaree said. “That price could be $84,385. That’s a significant savings to the district.”

Savings the school district has experienced this year on fuel because of reduced pump prices in addition to the bus price discount it can get through STS may free enough money for the district to buy another bus this summer.

“It’s going to be close, and we need to wait to be sure, but I really think we’ll be in the black even with a bus purchase,” Gabaree said.

Dr. Reece Blincoe, superintendent, said he had personal experience with STS and operations director Ralph Williams, who attended the Monday meeting, as superintendent at Rockdale before Blincoe came to Brownwood.

“I worked with Ralph for a year and half, and we had nothing but a positive experience,” Blincoe told the board. “There were a few bumps in the road on student discipline. STS was a little more strict, but we got that worked out. I’m Ralph Williams’ biggest fan today. It is with enthusiasm that I recommend approval of this contract.”

Gabaree also reported getting a positive reference on STS from an assistant superintendent at the Waco ISD, which has used the company for three years. Waco brought in STS after a negative experience with the contractor, and had considered going back to handling it all in-house.

“STS has been a very satisfactory service for them, and they plan never to go back,” Gabaree said.

The package is a three-year deal with an option of two two-year rollovers, school officials said. The contract has a cancellation provision if both parties agree, but Williams said any issues will be addressed by STS promptly.

“If a problem cannot be fixed within 45 days, you can get out,” Williams said. “We don’t want to be here if you don’t want us.”

Bus drivers now working for the school district will undergo STS training and become STS employees, but the company will make arrangements for longer tenured drivers nearing retirement. Blincoe said STS officials met with drivers last month over breakfast to answer any questions.

Gabaree noted that advantages to contracted transportation include that STS will assume all risk and liability, naming the school district as a co-insured on its liability policies; will handle discipline on buses; will train drivers, including district employees such as coaches who drive teams or groups to events; will upgrade technology; and will employ all current transportation employees. STS also will handle all transportation data compilation and statistical reporting required by the state.

The company’s Web site is www.stsbus.com.