Could Districts Save on Bus Costs?

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School buses are a part of the Grand Ledge school district's $34.6 million academic bond proposal.

"The school district is looking at purchasing 12 buses," district Operations Executive Director Matt Losch said. "We have a fleet of 52. Thirty percent of those are ten years or older."

One way districts could possibly save money is to contract out for busing. In theory, the district could save by not being responsible for purchasing the buses themselves.

"There are some ways it works and ways it doesn't," said David Martell, associate executive director at Michigan School Business Officials.

Martell says the contractors don't often give out the generous benefits given by school districts, something that can be both a cost savings and a point of contention in the privatization process.

Another possible onetime cost savings: districts get cash after selling the buses they own to a private company.

Losch, with Grand Ledge Public Schools, says that idea doesn't make sense for his district.

"Once you sell off your fleet you've lost your negotiation leverage," he said.

The district is worried that once a contractor bought the buses, it could hike up the rates. Without the district having its own buses, administrators would have no choice but to pay what the company asks.

And what about in Lansing?

"Part of our busing is privatized," Chief Financial Officer Scott Powers said.

That's because Ingham County districts contract as a whole with Dean Transportation to provide buses for special education students.

The Lansing district would prefer to keep the rest of the fleet public.

"We like have direct employees as long as we can afford it," Powers said.

But given the financial squeeze the district is in, it's something he says he may have to consider.