Unit 5 could save between $5 million and $8.3 million over the next decade by taking back control of student transportation, a consultant told the school board Wednesday night.
Unit 5 outsourced its busing system to First Student in 2012, in part to save money. But nearly eight years later, Unit 5 leaders are considering a switch back over concerns about frequent late buses, driver shortages, and children with special needs let off at wrong stops. Unit 5 could stick with First Student, hire another vendor, or bring busing back in house.
Phil McConnell with School Bus Consultants said his report was based on “numerous assumptions and estimates” and that the school board cannot decide whether to “insource” busing again based on his analysis alone. Standing up a new in-house transportation department with over 250 employees would be a complex challenge, he said. Additional worker’s compensation costs should be another consideration, he said.
“You need to weigh the savings against risk against the unknown,” McConnell said.
In 2012, Unit 5 leaders, including then-Superintendent Gary Niehaus, touted the potential savings as one benefit of outsourcing. Improved service was another. Now, Unit 5’s board is weighing whether the opposite—insourcing—will save money and improve service.
Unit 5 now spends about $10.2 million on transportation with First Student each year, covering 135 routes.
The range of savings—between $5 million and $8.3 million over 10 years—would depend on how much Unit 5 would pay its in-house drivers, how much is set aside for worker’s comp, and other factors. If Unit 5 opted to pay a higher average hourly wage of $21.31—matching the pay in the Tri-Valley school district—the potential savings would be around $7 million.
McConnell said his analysis also includes 12 management staffers to oversee busing, up from First Student’s seven employees. He said First Student has been understaffed.
First Student’s contract ends in June. If Unit 5 decides to bring transportation back in house, it would take one to two years to happen, McConnell said. Unit 5 “should be prepared to extend its agreement with First Student or re-bid the contract for the start of the 2020-21 school year.”
Even if Unit 5 decides to continue using a vendor (First Student or another company), McConnell recommended the district establish specific policies for day-to-day operations, such as walk-to-stop distances and student ride times. Unit 5 has set eligibility rules—who can ride the bus—but should formalize these other policies, McConnell said.
“Policies clearly define the level of service that can be expected," he said.
No decisions were made Wednesday night.
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