«Joel D. Montero Chief Executive Officer Fiscal crisis & ManageMent assistance teaM February 12, 2014 Jim Cloney, Superintendent Shasta Union High ...»
The district’s remaining two buses are a 20-passenger unit and 25-passenger special education bus with a wheelchair ramp. Replacing the buses was prudent because the district had an aging fleet with several units that needed to be immediately replaced, and financing rates were competitive.
The Redding Elementary’s bus fleet has an average age of nine years, making it the newest of the agencies studied in this review. A bus replacement program could be designed and implemented to reduce the large fiscal impact of replacing several simultaneously.
The district has contracted with the county office for home-to-school transportation services for more than 40 years, according to staff. The contract does not specify the formula for calculating the charge for these services, indicating only that the district will pay county office the “actual cost to provide the service.” This statement is vague and therefore open to misinterpretation.
The contract should include a set of cost assumptions and estimates to assist the district with budgeting and service expectations. However, an analysis of county office data found that the county office does not charge more than its expense. The county office operational cost data for the district’s charges was validated through an internal review of the documentation provided for all operational costs. Redding Elementary should develop a contract with the county office that is more specific and understandable concerning the charge-back formula and how it is determined.
In February 2012, Redding Elementary and the county office discussed a plan to decrease the district’s transportation expenses by an estimated $40,000 by reducing the number of middle school bus stops. The plan originally estimated that the county office could decrease the number of routes per day from 11.5 to 6.5, but it was not popular with parents or convenient for students. As a result, the entities redesigned the plan for the 2012-13 school year, reestablishing some of the routes. This resulted in the county office adding 2.25 hours daily, and district bus routes increasing to 8.75 hours per day. As the school year started, Redding Elementary requested
ShaSta Union high School DiStrict6 DISTRICT AND COUNTY OFFICE SERVICES
that the county office further increase its service level by reestablishing some bus stops; therefore, the county office added a route, increasing district service hours to 10.5 per day. In July 2012, the district moved more special education students to regular education bus routes and added two routes dedicated for these pupils.
Another issue that makes it difficult for the county office to control the district’s transportation expense is that Redding Elementary does not consistently apply its transportation eligibility criteria. District Administrative Regulation (AR) 3541 states that district students are not eligible for transportation if they are in grades K-5 and live within one mile of school. Further, the policy indicates that all grade 6-8 school bus stops will be located so that students do not walk farther than the governing board deems appropriate. The wording also allows the district to alter service level for middle school students without amending board policy. Most school districts have board policy and administrative regulations with more specific criteria, reducing inconsistency. The district should review its transportation eligibility criteria and develop a firm, clear, objective, and specific eligibility policy.
According to county office staff, the district’s anticipated transportation savings was minimally affected by a slight increase in fuel expense. The primary reason the district did not achieve the anticipated service cost decrease was that it added transportation service to the regular education transportation program. For the current year, it is undetermined whether the district will benefit from any cost reduction, and expenses may even increase.
The district indicated that the county office provides a high level of service, and the district is satisfied overall. However, there are concerns about increasing transportation cost and the anticipated increased expense for special education transportation. The county office provides an estimated expense for home-to-school transportation, and the district is invoiced in monthly payments for December through May. After reconciliation at the end of the fiscal year, the county office applies a credit back to the district or invoices the difference. According to the county office, the district received a $19,725 credit for 2011-12. For the 2012-13 school year, the county office operated nine school bus routes for the district, and it anticipated operating 10 home-to-school and special education bus routes for the 2013-14 school year because of increased service requirements that resulted from the district shortening the time between its school bell schedules.
The district also uses a private company, ABC Cab, to transport its homeless students according to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act 11431. The costs and number of students vary considerably. However, according to the invoices reviewed, this service costs the district an average of $30 per student per day or approximately $5,400 per student annually. This amount exceeds the home-to-school transportation expense and is more than the county office excess cost of $3,300 per student for the 2011-12 school year. The district should explore alternative options for transporting homeless students through a competitive bid for local cab or shuttle vendors and enter into a contract for more competitive rates. Additionally, the district could explore a cooperative contract with surrounding school districts such as the high school district or the county office for these services.
According to county office invoices, it scheduled and provided approximately 198 field trips for the district in the 2012-13 school year at a total cost of $19,765.65, which equates to an approximate average of $99 per field trip. This is a competitive rate that is often considerably higher for outside providers. Many organizations reviewed by FCMAT find that an outside pupil transportation provider will assess a minimum of two, four, and six or more hours with a standard rate that is two to three times higher. Some providers also assess a mileage fee.
Fiscal crisis & ManageMent assistance teaM
DISTRICT AND COUNTY OFFICE SERVICESAccording to the county office average daily ridership census from May 2013, it transports approximately 601 students in the morning and 706 in the afternoon. This data conflicts with the data in the 2011-12 Form TRAN (TRAN report) indicating that 829 students are transported. Ridership could have significantly declined, but this inconsistency likely indicates inaccurate reporting on the TRAN report.
The county office appears to effectively design district bus routes. In 2012-13, two routes performed three morning bus runs each, and four routes performed two afternoon runs each for home-to-school general education transportation. For special education transportation, the county office operated two routes. There was some separation in bell times to allow for greater efficiency. The separation will be narrower in the 2013-14 school year, when the district adopts another bell schedule that will cause the county office to add an additional bus route and increase costs accordingly.
The district’s administration and board are open to validation of the county office transportation cost structure or any other collaborative arrangement that maintains student transportation service levels and provides savings. The district owns property that may be zoned and improved for a bus facility if it were needed in another collaborative transportation effort and has developed preliminary plans for this. Additionally, the district has explored considering a public transit bus facility cooperative venture.
Bus Lease Contracts Redding Elementary has two bus lease contracts, one for a transit-style bus that is leased to the Chrysalis Charter School Program, and the other for a special education bus leased from the French Gulch-Whiskeytown School District. The contracts are similar in form, content, and term, June 2011 through June 2014. Both contracts include insurance coverage language specific to the Northern California Schools Insurance Group (NCSIG), and the renting agent provides its own certified driver. However, the contracts appear in language and content to align with those found in California school transportation.
The special education unit leased by the Redding Elementary from the French GulchWhiskeytown School District is a 2009 GMC/Collins special education school bus. The lease identifies a monthly cost of $200 per month for 10 months of the year. The contract states that the district as responsible for all general preventative maintenance and minor repairs at or less than $2,000 each and for the first $2,000 of all other repairs. The district is also responsible for maintaining insurance coverage. The contract contains language allowing the Redding Elementary to renew the agreement at the end of each term; however, either it or the French Gulch-Whiskeytown School Districts may terminate the contract with a 180-day notice in the event of a program closure or substantial loss of state funding. The contract does not specify whether it is permissible for the district to retrofit the rental unit with any type of auxiliary equipment such as global positioning systems (GPS), video surveillance camera, 2-way wireless communications/radios or other equipment.
Renting the special education bus from the French Gulch-Whiskeytown School District appears to be cost-effective for Redding Elementary since it does so at rates that are below those observed throughout the state. A dealer would typically charge more per month and require a 12-month lease. In future contracts, the district should specify for clarity who is responsible for fuel and other operational costs; also language should be added to provide permission to retrofit with the necessary auxiliary equipment most often used by school districts for safety and efficiency. The contract requires Redding Elementary to return the bus in the same condition as acquired with consideration for reasonable wear.
ShaSta Union high School DiStrict8 DISTRICT AND COUNTY OFFICE SERVICES
The transit style large unit leased from the Chrysalis Charter School Program is a 2004 Blue Bird Transit Bus. The lease identifies a cost of $600 per month for 10 months a year. Like the Redding Elementary/French Gulch-Whiskeytown contract, the Chrysalis Charter School Program is responsible for all general preventative maintenance and minor repairs at or less than $2,000 each and the first $2,000 of all major repairs. The charter school is responsible for maintaining insurance coverage for the duration of the contract. The contact allows the charter school to renew the contact at the end of each term, and the contract allows the district and the charter school program to terminate the contract with a 180-day notice in the event of a program closure or substantial loss of state funding. Also similar to the contract with the French Gulch-Whiskeytown School District, the contract does not stipulate which district is responsible for fuel expense or whether it is permissible to retrofit the rental unit with any type of auxiliary equipment.
Rental of the one transit-style large passenger bus is not necessarily a strong financial income source for Redding Elementary, but cost-effective for the charter school. Similarly to Redding Elementary’s rental from the French Gulch Whiskeytown School District, the Chrysalis Charter School Program is permitted to utilize the district’s bus for only a fraction of what a dealer or many other district programs would charge, and the contract stipulates that rental expense is only for 10 of 12 months. Most contracts do not permit this without returning the rental unit to its owner. In future contracts, the district should specify for clarity who is responsible for fuel and include permission to retrofit with the necessary auxiliary equipment most often used by school districts. The contract requires the Chrysalis Charter School Program to return the bus in the same condition as acquired. It is difficult for any lease agreement to specifically identify and value the reasonable wear and tear of a leased bus since this evaluation may be subjective and vary with operating conditions.
Recommendations The district should:
1. Establish a school bus replacement schedule indicating the replacement of one unit annually.
2. Develop a county office regular education home-to-school transportation contract that is more specific and clear about the charge-back formula and how it is determined.
3. Review the student transportation eligibility criteria and develop a firm and specific policy with eligibility criteria that is not subject to interpretation.
4. Explore alternative options for transporting homeless students.
5. Generate a contract for the ABC Cab company.
6. Accurately count ridership, and report it correctly on the TRAN report.
7. Develop a contract that specifies that the bus lessee is responsible for all operational expenses.
8. Develop a contract that includes language allowing or disallowing lessees to add auxiliary equipment at their expense. The district should also remove all such equipment when returning the bus to the district in its original state.
9. Review the comparable monthly rental rates charged by bus dealers and other local education authorities renting larger transit style buses to ensure they charge and pay fair and appropriate industry lease rates.
Enterprise Elementary School District (EESD) The Enterprise Elementary School District is a K-8 district that encompasses approximately 9.08 square miles and serves about 3,300 students. The district is composed of six elementary schools and one community day school.