School sys­tem con­sid­ers tak­ing over some bus routes, ex­penses

Study finds upfront costs of tak­ing all ser­vices in-house too much

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

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.

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