The Bozeman School Board projects switching to new propane school buses will cut costs for the district and reduce harmful emissions.

After three bids from four private school bus companies, the School Board decided Monday night to continue its contract with First Student Inc. for another five years and to use propane-fueled buses instead of diesel.

Although the district did not originally request it, First Student Inc. entered a bid for both diesel and propane buses — both of which were significantly cheaper than the other bids. Currently, the district pays about $1.8 million per year for home-to-school busing in its contract with First Student. It will pay a similar fee for the next five years.

First Student also has promised to retain the current minimum bus driver salary and to make adjustments for the cost of living, which was a concern for bus drivers.

Board members said the swap to propane buses with First Student will save about $123,000 per year and around $640,000 over the entire contract. The long-term savings and environmental benefits warrant the switch to propane, district officials said.

School Board members said the district intends to put the money saved to better use elsewhere, to retain current teachers threatened by budget cuts and perhaps even to hire additional teachers.

Throughout its current contract, school officials said First Student has provided the district with “above satisfactory” service. The company is responsive to parents and students and strives to improve. First Student has also shown a commitment to safety.

Propane emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions, though its fuel economy is somewhat worse than with traditional fuels.

The district will retain diesel-fueled buses for longer field trips and extra-curricular outings. First Student also made a bid to run the diesel activity buses for $28.50 per hour, about half of the district’s current costs. The School Board awarded First Student with this bid as well, and it anticipates saving more than $110,000 annually.

First Student will have 40 propane buses ready to start next school year.

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