School system considers taking over some bus routes, expenses
Study finds upfront costs of taking all services in-house too much
Charles County Public Schools is considering creating a hybrid system of student transportation, with independent contractors maintaining some routes and the school system completing other routes inhouse.
Director of Transpor- tation Brad Snow presented the findings of a recent consultation study as well as his own recommendations at the school board’s Feb. 14 meeting.
“CCPS staff has determined that the best course of actions is to look at bus routes as they retire, assume those that would provide substantial savings for the system,” Snow said. “In the event of substantial changes to the current contracted rate, the auto rate or service deteriorates, it may be necessary to reconsider the current model [of contracted services].”
CCPS currently relies on 26 different independent contracting companies for the use of 350 buses to provide transportation for the county’s students, Snow said.
The school system budgets approximately $25.7 million annually for contracted bus services.
Last spring, the school board requested the system look into the feasibility of performing transportation in-house, as is done in some other jurisdictions, including Prince George’s County.
The study, complet- ed by Missouri-based School Bus Consultants LLC, found the school system could save approximately $10.1 million, or 3.3 percent, over the course of 10 years.
However, the school system would have to incur significant start-up costs — $7 million in the first three years — before it could realize those savings, Snow said.
“Those $7 million would have to come from some place, some allocation of funds, and would not be going to the classroom, teacher salaries, things of that nature,” Snow said.
The study looked only at current bus routes and could not take into account possible chang- es in regulations, property expenses or fuel costs, Snow said.
Snow said taking transportation services in-house would also be detrimental to the bus contractor companies, some of whom have been serving the county for generations.
“We have a great work- ing relationship with our contractors here in the county; most of them do a fantastic job of keeping our kids safe with their services. That contractor base would be lost, and once that contractor base is lost, there’s no starting them back up,” Snow said.
The study recommended the school system not change its cur- rent model at this time, but look into purchasing land that could be used for bus lots and prepare for the possibility of converting to an in-house system if costs change significantly.
However, Snow recommended that, as older buses reach the 15-year limit to their life and are retired, the school system look into each route and decide whether or not there would be sig- nificant cost savings on a route-by-route basis.
“Moving forward, what I would recommend is starting to look at bus routes as buses retire, do an analysis and assume those routes when it is in the best interests of the school system,” Snow said.
Snow referred to the resulting method as a hybrid transportation system.
Snow said Washington County currently has a hybrid system, and the transportation department has been looking at them as a model.
Snow said Washington County uses 181 of its own buses and contracts services for an additional 59 buses.
“Typically, what they do is when a bus is due to retire, they look at the route that bus has been managing, they run through an analysis and look at what the costs are of them providing the bus and providing the services, and if it’s advantageous for them to do so, they assume that route. They tell the contractor not to purchase another bus,” Snow said.
Snow said that nine reg- ular buses and five special education buses are scheduled to be retired in the 2018-2019 school year, and 17 regular buses and two special educa- tion buses are scheduled to be retired in the 20192020 school year.
Currently, the school system does maintain four special education buses of its own for out-of-county nonpublic placements, Snow said.
School board member Victoria Kelly noted the school system would still incur start-up costs under the hybrid model.
“Why make that recommendation versus doing as the study recommends, keeping it like it is, and perhaps working with the contractors so we’re helping them be more efficient with what they’re doing in their operations?” Kelly asked.
Snow replied that the study only looked at two options: all in-house or all contract, and said it would be in the school system’s best interest to take advantage of sav- ings when possible.
“This study looks at ‘all-in’ or ‘all-out,’ and they didn’t feel it was a good time to go all-in. They’re not looking at anything in the middle,” Snow said. “I think it would be good for us to look at the $10 million we could possibly save over 10 years and look at ways we could possibly access that.”
The sole speaker during the public comment phase, Richard Koch of Koch Trucking, said he spoke on behalf of Charles County school bus contractors in concurring with the study’s findings to not change the current system of contracted bus services.
“The study means nothing if the board fails to address the rising costs in a fair and equitable contract addressing the needs of the contractors and their employees. Ultimately, such failure will lead to the demise of the contractor system, will result in a higher cost to the board and the citizens of Charles County. So will slowly cherry picking routes from the contractors,” Koch said.