Dal­las County Schools de­serves a ‘no’ vote

Bus ser­vice has a poor track record, and its costs are pro­hib­i­tive, says Dustin Marshall

The Dallas Morning News - - Viewpoints - not all Dustin Marshall is the DISD trustee for District 2. He wrote this col­umn for The Dal­las Morn­ing News. Email: dustin@dustin­mar­shall.com

On the Nov. 7 bal­lot, vot­ers in Dal­las County will have the op­por­tu­nity to im­prove the safety and re­li­a­bil­ity of hun­dreds of school buses in North Texas while re­turn­ing some money to their own pock­ets. It’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion that vot­ers should seize.

The con­fus­ing lan­guage for Propo­si­tion A on the bal­lot reads as fol­lows: “Propo­si­tion for the con­tin­u­a­tion of Dal­las County Schools Stu­dent Trans­porta­tion Ser­vices. Au­tho­riz­ing the con­tin­ued op­er­a­tion of the county board of ed­u­ca­tion, board of county school trus­tees, and of­fice of the county school su­per­in­ten­dent in Dal­las County and the col­lec­tion of the Dal­las County school equal­iza­tion ad val­orem tax.” If vot­ers choose to vote against the propo­si­tion, this will ini­ti­ate a process to un­wind Dal­las County Schools. Don’t be mis­led by the name

Dal­las County Schools. DCS has no stu­dents, no teach­ers and no schools. It doesn’t teach stu­dents at all. Its core func­tion is stu­dent trans­porta­tion. DCS levies a prop- erty tax on ev­ery home and busi­ness in Dal­las County, but it only pro­vides trans­porta­tion ser­vices to a hand­ful of dis­tricts. Dis­tricts served by DCS in­clude Gar­land, Mesquite and Grand Prairie. While those peo­ple are pay­ing a tax for a ser­vice they’re not re­ceiv­ing, they might be bet­ter off than those who are served by DCS.

So why should you vote to un­wind DCS?

What if I told you that DCS buses ran 480 red lights in just two years? That its buses were sub­ject to 4,000 reck­less driv­ing com­plaints? That DCS crashes in­creased by 103 per­cent in the 2015-16 school year (405 crashes) as com­pared with the 2014-15 school year (200 crashes)? That there is an ac­ci­dent or an in­ci­dent for one of ev­ery 69 DISD chil­dren who ride the bus?

What if I told you that DCS had an on-time ar­rival rate of only 66 per­cent at DISD schools dur­ing the 2015-16 school year? That many DISD stu­dents rou­tinely miss all or part of their first-pe­riod class and break­fast due to DCS? That the DISD rou­tinely has to de­lay or can­cel sport­ing events be­cause DCS buses don’t get the stu­dents to the venue on time?

What if I told you that the cost per stu­dent per year that DCS charges DISD for ser­vice has in­creased over a four-year pe­riod from $810 per stu­dent per year to $1,654, all while fuel costs are at his­toric lows? That pub­licly avail­able cost data on the TEA web­site shows that school dis­tricts in Hous­ton, Fort Worth and Lewisville have av­er­age costs per mile of $3.05, $2.79 and $3.05, re­spec­tively, while DCS has an av­er­age cost per mile of $5.21?

What if I told you that the bus bu­reau­cracy has been fi­nan­cially mis­man­aged to the point it is on the brink of bankruptcy and that Moody’s In­vestors Ser­vice has re­peat­edly down­graded the DCS bond rat­ing to the point of junk bond sta­tus? That the FBI and the Texas Rangers are in­ves­ti­gat­ing po­ten­tial fraud?

I would imag­ine that any sin­gle one of those state­ments would prompt you to shut down this rogue bus bu­reau­cracy. Un­for­tu­nately, of those state­ments are true.

Dal­las County Schools is one of only two county school sys­tems that still ex­ist in the state. It is time for us to fol­low the lead of hun­dreds of other coun­ties through­out Texas and close DCS.

As a re­sult of bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion that passed the state Leg­is­la­ture this sum­mer, if Propo­si­tion A fails, a thought­ful, or­derly wind­down of DCS would be trig­gered. It would in­clude a tran­si­tion pe­riod dur­ing which a dis­so­lu­tion com­mit­tee would be formed by the school dis­tricts that use DCS. This com­mit­tee would op­er­ate DCS for the re­main­der of the 2017-18 school year. Dur­ing this tran­si­tion pe­riod, each district would de­velop tran­si­tion plans about how to han­dle trans­porta­tion for the fol­low­ing school year. Some may hire pri­vate com­pa­nies, and some may choose to han­dle trans­porta­tion in­ter­nally. At the end of the year, the as­sets of DCS would be tran­si­tioned to the school dis­tricts it served. The DISD ad­min­is­tra­tion has voiced plans to han­dle trans­porta­tion in­ter­nally by us­ing the buses in­her­ited from DCS and by hir­ing qual­i­fied DCS driv­ers.

I hope you’ ll join me on Nov. 7 (or dur­ing the early vot­ing pe­riod from Oct. 23 to Nov. 2) in vot­ing against Propo­si­tion A so we can un­wind this dan­ger­ous, un­re­li­able and fi­nan­cially mis­man­aged bus bu­reau­cracy.

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