EAST LANSING PUBLIC SCHOOL’S BUSSING COSTS
The recent controversy about the transition plans associated with ELPS implementing their elementary school reconfiguration made me curious about ELPS’s bussing costs.
I was shocked to find that ELPS spent $1,171,207 on student transportation in academic year 2017-18. The graph below shows that this is a 61% ($443,478) increase in ELPS’s student transportation costs over the past eleven years. Note that contracting out ELPD’s general education bussing to Dean Transportation, through the Ingham Intermediate School District (ISD), beginning in 2012-13 did NOT slow down the rising costs. Also note that transportation costs increased from $836,048 in 2011-12 to $905,263 in 2012-13; although former Superintendent Chapin claimed, using faulty calculations, that the district would save at least $100,000 in transportation costs by outsourcing to Dean Transportation.
In contrast, the overall transportation costs for the other eleven districts in the Ingham ISD increased by less than 1% from 2007-08 to 2016-17. If ELPS had experienced a similar change in transportation costs, they would be able to afford five more teachers.
Why have ELPS’s transportation costs increased so dramatically relative to other districts in the ISD?
It is unlikely that simply outsourcing to Dean Transportation explains the dramatic growth for two reasons. First, the increases began prior to 2012-13 and second, Dean provides general education transportation to three other districts in Ingham ISD and none experienced cost increases similar to ELPS. (I want to emphasize that Dean Transportation is NOT the culprit in this situation. Dean Transportation has a reputation as a firm with a social conscience that is active in many community activities. That said, Dean Transportation is a profit maximizing firm that responds to incentives.) It is also unlikely that ELPS’s 2014 reconfiguration to 5 elementary schools explains the dramatic growth because transportation costs initially decreased after the reconfiguration – perhaps due to an increase in walkability associated with the reconfiguration.
A likely explanation is that ELPS is not administering the bussing efficiently and this mismanagement is increasing bussing costs. My kids stood at a nonexistent bus stop waiting for a bus that never came on the first day of school in 2012-13, when Dean first took over, because (I was told that ) ELPS provided Dean Transportation outdated information on the bus stop location. Every year there are bus route adjustments due to bus capacity issues even though ELPS argued that a major benefit of outsourcing bussing was Dean’s ability to use student resident information to efficiently construct bus routes and bus stop locations.
What should be done to reduce transportation costs?
ELPS should have individuals with appropriate training analyze student transportation and quantify the tradeoffs associated with different alternatives. What should not be done is have a committee comprised of local politicians, school board members, lawyers, education consultants and education academics, who have no training or expertise in transportation issues, evaluate whether ELPS should bring general education transportation back in house. ELPS has done this song and dance before when they closed Red Cedar Elementary School without any credible analysis, invested $11M in renovating Red Cedar without any credible analysis and now plan to provide undetermined programming in Red Cedar without any credible analysis.
Allowing experts to provide a credible analysis of the tradeoffs associated with bussing might allow ELPS to use more of their general funds on teachers, parapros, and other labor that work directly with the kids.