By Joe Farkus, NDG Contributing Writer
The Dallas ISD Trustee Board was briefed on its options for replacing Dallas County Schools (DCS) during its Nov. 30 board briefing. The board was told DCS’s dissolution committee will be meeting over the course of the next four months to help determine the details of the transference of transportation responsibilities to Dallas ISD for the next school year. Dallas ISD has a particular challenge on its hands due to the sheer size of the district and the 16 different cities it covers.
DCS, which currently employs 850 bus drivers and 282 other employees, is saddled with $50 million in bond debt and $90 million in other debt. In order to pay off the organization’s financial difficulties, the DCS penny-tax rate charged to county taxpayers is expected to remain in place until the debt is paid. Whether that penny-tax rate will be applied only to the bond debt as opposed to the entire debt, remains unclear.
An initial plan has already been established by the district which lays out considerably more questions than answers. The district has three potential routes it can pursue in providing transportation services for its students next school year:
- Contracted Services: essentially a continuation of the arrangement with DCS, except with a separate contractor. While the district would benefit from little-to-no upfront costs with this option, using a contractor often leads to lower pay for employees and a lack of direct control over the service provided. The district is unlikely to pursue this route as it deems the contractor option “virtually impossible” due to the district’s size.
- In-House Program: considered by the district to be the best option, it would allow a potentially large number of DCS employees to remain within the district under a new in-house program. This option would allow more control over the transportation services to the district; however, there are concerns over high upfront costs and a potentially complicated implementation process.
- Contracted / In-House Hybrid: which would include a portion of the transportation services going to a contractor(s) while the majority would, presumably, remain in-house. The district has tried this model with magnet and choice schools in the past with mixed results.
The district currently spends a grand total of more than $51 million on student transportation expenses. The projected cost is expected to increase by approximately $3 million for the 2018-19 school year. Representatives from the district are looking at other districts that use in-house programs to investigate what strategies it can implement to keep costs down and still be able to maintain a quality service for its students. Cy-Fair ISD has been identified has a potential model for a new in-house program, as its ridership is currently higher than Dallas ISD yet it spends considerably less than Dallas on its services.
The next step for Dallas ISD is to hire a full-time Executive Director of Transportation to lead the process, to form a Transportation Transition Task Force to hammer out the details of a transition over the course of the next six months, and to figure out a way to absorb some of DCS’s support staff while maintaining their current hourly rates and potentially retaining a form of their current benefits received. Despite the district’s best efforts, little is yet to be known regarding how it will acquire DCS’s fleet of 925 buses among other concerns. Dallas ISD must have a plan by early next year.