If you already made plans to attend the 16th National Congress on School Transportation in Warrensburg, Missouri, think again. Exactly when and where the 75th annual national school bus standards meeting is to take place will remain up in the air for at least a few weeks.
An RFP to identify the new NCST host is expected to be released as soon as Monday after the steering committee learned last month that the event will not return to the University of Central Missouri in May. The conference convenes every five years to update national specifications and recommendations for school bus operations.
Murrell Martin, steering committee chair and state director of student transportation at Utah's Office of Education, provided this update last Wednesday at the NASDPTS Annual Conference in Kansas City.
The Missouri Safety Center at the University of Central Missouri, which has hosted the NCST for several decades, sent a letter to the steering committee in October stating that it would be unable to "meet objectives" for hosting the 16th NCST originally scheduled for mid-May.
Martin explained that the Missouri Safety Center could no longer fund the Congress at previous rates in place since it began hosting the event in 1980. The result would have meant increasing registration rates for delegates by nearly double — a burden to the industry that the steering committee deemed too weighty for the industry to shoulder. Sources close to the negotiations told STN that the Missouri Safety Center had for years sponsored NCST with additional university funds, but a recent mandate from the new university administration required that each department become self sufficient in terms of operating respective budgets. This, in turn, prompted the Safety Center to hike the rates it charges organizations for hosting events and providing other services, such as publishing the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures manual.
Martin noted several key objectives the steering committee would have in selecting a new vendor, namely that the winning bid would come from a host in the Midwest and in close proximity to a major airport to minimize ground transportation expenses. It was a challenge to many attendees of previous NCST meetings that the University of Central Missouri campus is located 77 miles from the Kansas City International Airport.
He added that the steering committee wants to see bids from potential hosts that can provide additional space to accommodate committees, delegates and other interested parties who will attend NCST as well as provide '"reasonable centralized room accommodations" near the event space.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, Martin said hotels and convention spaces must be able to hold NCST in mid-May of next year, or in June at the latest. However, there was concern voiced to STN by several state directors and others in attendance at both NASDPTS and the NAPT Summit that holding NCST in June would prohibit many state delegates from attending because of local state conferences.
He also said the steering committee still intends to open NCST registration by mid-December.