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An additional session at The Career Academy and a new job site for special education students is driving much of a $658,200 increase in the Lincoln Public Schools transportation budget for the coming year.

The transportation plan, which the board will vote on May 28, deals only with bus route changes so planning for the coming school year can be completed before the full LPS budget is finalized.

The bus routes make up just a portion of the overall transportation budget, which is $12.3 million for the 2018-19 year. 

Any additional increase for the coming year, over the cost of the added bus routes, will be primarily for salaries and benefits.

The transportation plan considered by the board Tuesday would add routes to 15 schools -- at a cost of $432,870 -- for special education students, English language learners and early childhood education students.

But the plan also would eliminate routes to 12 schools, saving $254,320.

The biggest addition -- on top of the routes added to the 15 schools -- is $284,250 to take students in the district’s job-skills VOICE program to a new job site: Pemberly Place, a senior living facility in southeast Lincoln.

The other big increase -- $195,420 -- is to take about 50 students to an additional session at The Career Academy at Southeast Community College.

The Career Academy added a mid-day session from 10:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m. this year. 

About half the students were already in the program and use the extra session to extend their time there, said director Dan Hohensee. The other half are new to The Career Academy.

Fifty to 60 percent of students rely on buses to get them to the program's three sessions, Hohensee said.

LPS, which has struggled with bus driver shortages for years, has contracted with First Student for buses and drivers for several years.

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Next year, they won’t need to contract for buses, but the private business will provide up to 15 drivers, said LPS Transportation Director Ryan Robley.

A signing bonus approved by the board has helped reduce the driver shortage significantly, Robley said, and the department is now short about six drivers.

LPS buses got more than 3,600 students to and from school this year, traveling 1.3 million miles.

About 45% of the students on those buses were special education students, 23% were regular education students, 24% percent early childhood education students and 8% ELL students.

In general, busing is limited to regular education students attending elementary and middle schools over 4 miles from their home.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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