Dallas County Schools deserves a ‘no’ vote
Bus service has a poor track record, and its costs are prohibitive, says Dustin Marshall
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.