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School Transportation Outsourcing Tips

Transportation – maintaining bus fleets, figuring out routes, and hiring drivers – is often a key area where school boards turn to outsourcing. ASBJ asked Ronna Weber, the executive director of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), about points to consider in transportation outsourcing:

How can school leaders tell when they should hire an outside company for school transportation?

There are many reasons that districts consider contracted transportation, but more often than not the reasons fall into one of the following categories: an aging fleet and limited resources; costs increasing faster than funding; overextended resources and scheduling difficulties; changes challenging the system such as redistricting, addition of inter-district schools and parental choice; or administrative headaches such as dealing with parents, employee absenteeism, drug and alcohol testing, and mandated paperwork. A contractor is in the business of transportation and can ease a district’s burden on all of these issues.

What are the advantages of outsourcing transportation?

While maintaining control over transportation through contract stipulations, school leaders who convert to contracted transportation are able to redirect both energies and resources to their core function, education. School transportation contractors have a single focus: to provide school bus service in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible while maintaining the highest levels of safety and reliable service. Just as school districts are experts at providing education, school bus contractors are experts at providing transportation.

A contractor has the ability to upgrade or completely replace an aging fleet with new buses equipped as the district chooses (within the boundaries of state law) without making a capital investment; contractors can control transportation costs and accurately predict those costs through the life of the contract; and contractors can hire district employees, protecting their current wages and benefits through contract specifications. Contractors also have the ability to reduce inflated employee costs by using market standards.

Are there figures on how many districts outsource transportation?

Contracted services have been steadily increasing over the years. According to School Bus Fleet, a school transportation publication, 34.7 percent of school transportation services were contracted in the 2012-13 school year. Another source of this information is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which tracks contracting of transportation, food, and janitorial services in Michigan. Its 2014 survey shows that 24 percent of Michigan districts contract out for transportation services. In this era of doing more with less, many districts are seeing the benefits of contracting.

What should school leaders look for in an outside services company?

When most people think of outsourcing transportation, they envision a full-service business model, where bus companies provide everything including the buses, drivers, and facility. Increasingly, school districts are working with contractor partners to design outsourcing models that are more appropriate for their needs. The possibilities can include almost any service or combination of services, from limited routes to only managerial services to full turnkey operations.

With respect to the budget, it is very important to fully understand your complete district costs before comparing the services of a contractor. NSTA encourages districts to use our “School Transportation Cost Analysis” ( www.yellowbuses.org/school-administrator/school-transportation-cost-analysis), which provides the basic data necessary for an apples-to-apples comparison to outsourced transportation services. This comparison includes the following expense categories: salaries and wages, benefits, training and testing, facilities, vehicles, transportation offices, and administrative costs.

What are some effective ways of dealing with community questions?

A change as significant as outsourcing transportation does not always occur easily. It requires advance preparation, diplomacy, and sensitivity to those who will be affected by the change—drivers and other personnel, parents, and taxpayers. School transportation contractors are aware of the concerns of the stakeholders and know that a full understanding of the process is imperative.

All parties are most concerned with maintaining control over transportation. This is easily accomplished through contract specifications, including detailed requirements for equipment, personnel and service, and enforcement provisions. Furthermore, a district that is dissatisfied with a contractor can change service providers. This competition aspect encourages high levels of service and efficiency among contractors.

All in all, contracting school transportation can provide a school district much-needed fiscal and administrative relief. If you have questions, we are happy to be of assistance.

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