Sniffles' Soapbox: FCBOE School Bus Costs

Wed, 02/18/2009 - 1:35pm
By: sniffles5

Hello boys and girls! In today's edition of Sniffles' Soapbox, we'll be discussing the FCBOE and school busses!

Roughly out of ten...people employed by our beloved Board of Education are involved with School Bus fleet.
At last count we had:

  • 223 School Bus drivers
  • 2 Transportation executives
  • 13 Bus Mechanics (including the infamous $93K mechanic)
  • 85 nebulous "other transporation personnel"

out of about 3500 employees.

Their collective salaries are right at $4 million dollars. (Note: I'm using 2007 dollars, for reasons explained later)

The total amount spent on bus transporation per year in Fayette County is $7.8 million dollars, which presumably includes salaries and new bus purchases, but not depreciation.

With 22,000 students, that works out to roughly $360 per student per year in Fayette county.

Now, the state of Georgia requires public school systems to pick up all non-disabled students over 1.5 miles away from school. Therefore, bus coverage is largely a fixed cost (number of square miles in a county to be covered), with some variable cost (primarily gas and excessive numbers of students on certain routes) mixed in. Remember: state law requires you to send a bus to the far reaches of the county even if only one student is riding it!

On to the fun part: OUTSOURCING!

I looked into two school systems in Georgia that have outsourced their school bus infrastructure to private companies. These counties are Muscogee (Columbus) and Chatham (Savannah).

These counties outsourced all the drivers, the mechanics, the record keeping clerks, the school bus facility, the receptionists, the parts department clerks and inventory...everything.

Now the most interesting comparison to me (trying to be as apples-to-apples here) is Fayette to Muscogee. Fayette has 197 miles of bus coverage, Muscogee has 210. Muscogee has more children but remember, coverage area drives the number of busses.

Muscogee county's outsourced cost is $290 per student per year, $70 per student less than Fayette!

(Source: CAFR 2007 audits of Fayette and Muscogee BOE)

And if you really want to go all out, Chatham county Savannah invested tremendous amounts of money into both outsourcing school buses and implementing a state-of-the-art cost tracking system. This cost tracking system gave Chatham tremendous leverage in negotiating transportation contracts, they knew the cost per student per school to the nickel.

Bottom line? Chatham county's outsourced cost is $250 per student per year, $110 per student less than Fayette county AND they have roughly 3 times as much area to cover!!

Here's the kicker: when gas prices skyrocketed 300% in 2008, Chatham's cost per student only rose 10%!

Benefits to outsourcing include:

  • 10% less workload in recruiting and human resources
  • no facility cost for school bus garage

Potential problems with outsourcing include:

  • loss of 350 public school employees may have significant impact on BOE reelection chances. Given the fact that the margin of victory was roughly 1000 votes each for Smola and Smith, a loss of 350 votes would make potential winning margins 650 or less
  • Janet Smola would no longer be able to provide county resources to the Great American Air Show at cost

I'm not saying outsourcing school busses in Fayette is the way to go...but I do think we should look into it.

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Submitted by MacTheKnife on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 12:08pm.

Thank you sniffles for the very informative posts. I appreciate you doing the research and using actual figures to help illuminate the deep dark quagmire that is the FCBOE. now if you can just get an audience with the board and share some ideas maybe, just maybe, they would listen to your suggestions.

Privatizing transportation, facility services and food service would save the taxpayers and the board a lot of money.

G35 Dude's picture
Submitted by G35 Dude on Thu, 02/19/2009 - 8:06pm.

How did you account for field trips and other school functions in your cost analysis? Were they included? Were they the same for the counties that you compared? Do the private companies charge extra for these? The problem that I noticed when my former company went outsourcing crazy was that while money was saved, quality and service really took a hit. I drive a school bus as a sub when needed. Almost every time I drive I hear a call on my radio for a bus to pick up a child that missed their bus and has no other way home. Within seconds some driver will volunteer to take this child home. They get no extra pay for this. Will a private company do this? From what I see Fayette County Transportation provides above average service for a below average cost. There's a saying in business: Quality, Service, and Price. Pick 2.

Submitted by MacTheKnife on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 6:13pm.

That driver you describe sounds exactly like the kind of driver that any company would be glad to hire.

G35 Dude's picture
Submitted by G35 Dude on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 6:43pm.

It's not one driver that I'm talking about. Many of the drivers seem to have this attitude.

Submitted by MacTheKnife on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 7:04pm.

I don't doubt that at all and I certainly do not want any employee of this mismanaged system to suffer due to the incompetence of the school board and superintendent.

It would be my belief and my hope that any company that took over the transportation contract would hire the existing drivers at least initially.

Again, I really don't know and I admit that. What I do know is that the mismanagement and lack of foresight have all of the employees in a difficult situation through no fault of their own.

The only problem I have with Sniffles research (and it is wonderful) is that we need to remember we are comparing relatively inefficient organizations to each other (or so I assume). It would be interesting to see some statistics showing how a privatized transportation system compared to the standard county government system.

Somehow I think Sniffles may have that information somewhere too!

G35 Dude's picture
Submitted by G35 Dude on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 10:03pm.

But you don't seem to be reading this entire thread. Sniffles quotes Chatham county's outsourced cost is $250. That was 2007. But if you read below you see that in 2008 fc1989's numbers show that those numbers jumped to $606 per student. This is not uncommon in outsourcing. The great savings vanish either by loss of service and quality or a price increase. Fayette Counties cost went from $360 to $385. Below State average in both years, while still adhering to the 1/2 mile pickup rule. I think you are guilty of guilt by association. If the FCBOE has control it must be a poorly run department. Can improvements be made. Sure. But to advocate giving away control of something so needed by our children without knowing, (You admitting not knowing in your own post), is no better than what you accuse the FCBOE of doing.

Submitted by fc1989 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 5:24pm.

Did you consider that FCPS picks up students with in 1/2 mile and not the 1.5 required by the state. What does Muscogee and Chatham do in this area? If you cut out some of the unnecessary miles you could reduce fuel, drivers, maintenance, and buses. However, you would increase the public outrage since this is an area that has been talked about before but no one seem to have the guts to reduce the operations and budget in this area.

hutch866's picture
Submitted by hutch866 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 5:31pm.

The problem with making kids walk to school is that there are no sidewalks, with the maniacs and the me first people driving on our streets the carnage would be unbelievable. So yeah, I guess the public would be outraged.

I yam what I yam....Popeye

Submitted by fc1989 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 8:12pm.

My point was to ask if the comparison of transportation per student cost in FC to Muscogee was an apples to apples comparison since Fayette county kids are coddled to the point that if the bus doesn't pull up to their door the parents either threaten a law suit or break down and drive them to school. You are correct that outside of PTC we do not design walking friendly communities although it is somewhat better recently in Fayetteville and some of the newer S/D's. My guess (and only a guess) is that in Muscogee and Chatham their are more kids on each bus and therefore lower per student cost for a few possible reasons, route planning, social economic differences (more kids in this demographic have no other transportation choice) and making the riders walk closer to the state limit.

hutch866's picture
Submitted by hutch866 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 11:03pm.

Two questions for you, do you have any kids in school that ride the bus? What new subdivisions in Fayetteville have sidewalks that run to the schools. My kid has rode the bus for years and the bus does not even enter my subdivision, the kids have to walk to the entrance to catch it, so where is the coddling? the only way to lower the milage for the buses is to make the kids walk to school and that isn't possible without a sidewalk. So point that.

I yam what I yam....Popeye?

Submitted by fc1989 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 11:19pm.

My kids were only coddled til they got old enough to drive. Since our children's bus had discipline problems that did not get fixed, we car pooled with neighbors when they were young.

I am not talking about them walking all the way to school, but in my subdivision the kids get picked up at most 1/4 mile from their door. If the bus stopped at the s/d entrance the longest walk would be one mile compared to the state maximum (which is what the state is funding) of 1.5 miles. I have noticed in the past on my way to work in Clayton County that if I get behind a school bus on McDonough Rd or Tara Rd the school bus stops on the main road at the s/d entrance picking up 10 ot 15 kids. Our school buses go into the s/d and pick up 2 or 4 kids at a time at each stop.

I realize that each bus route is different but I am making this comment based on what I have seen in action.

Also, see my comment below on trans cost per student. FCPS is doing somewhat better than other systems. Not there is not room for improvement but is it do to inefficiency or mode of operations. We have been paying more in Fayette to get better (so the story goes). Safer more convenient transportation has been a part of that story, but it cost money too.

The board should look at what other systems are doing and implement best practices (the new paradigm shift). I think however, that most of the parents will not be happy with the changes necessary.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 8:19pm.

You raise an excellent point, fc1989. I did not factor in the Fayette 1/2 mile factor. (I thought they did away with that in 2003, I was wrong, they went from 1/3 to 1/2 mile).

I'd still like to see a formal cost-benefit analysis for outsourcing the bus system. My gut feel is that there could be some non-trivial savings there.

Submitted by fc1989 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 10:37pm.

Below from the GA DOE website is the transportation cost for the above mentioned systems as well as the state as a whole.*&p_fiscal_year=2008&p_order=15&prev_order=asc

System Name FTE Trans Exp. Per FTE
Fayette County 22,248 8,566,012.89 385.02
Muscogee County 31,901 10,417,381.45 326.55
Chatham County 32,747 19,845,037.12 606.01
State Total 1,617,162 705,102,994.96 436.01

To be fair I think we should look at the most recent data. You never explained why you use 2007 money. These numbers are the numbers that are reported to the state by each district and include all expenditures. If outsourcing is viable we should talk to Muscogee to find out why it increased so drastically in 2008. According to your calculations FC cost went down when other were going up.

Submitted by fc1989 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 10:49pm.

Also from the GA DOE numbers you can see Fayette's rank by function area and how they compare to the state average cost for that area:

Function Rank
Instruction 137th, more than state average
Gen Admin 71th, less than state average
Staff Supp. 58th, less than state average
Transportation 57th, less than state average
School Admin 120th, more than state average
Maint/Operations 102nd, at state average
Pupil Services 34th, less than state average
Total 58th, more than state average

What this shows is that compared to other systems in the state we are spending more per student in instruction and school admin. That means teachers and school staff. It is unfortunate but if other systems and the state average mean anything then the board needs to review those areas closely. It seems that in most of the other areas either FCPS is doing well or the rest of the state is terrible. Probably some of both. The GA DOE web page explains what each of these functions represents.

Sorry for the numbers running together. I am not versed in html.

PinchedNerve's picture
Submitted by PinchedNerve on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 5:45pm.

I grew up in the mid-west and used to walk a little over a mile to school every day. Sidewalks the whole way. (fully equiped with snow)I moved here in the 8th grade, haven't seen a sidewalk since.

I shacked up with a man before I was married. His name was Jesus.

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Thu, 02/19/2009 - 9:32am.

PinchedNerve...we moved here from the west, where there are an abundance of sidewalks everywhere for people to use. So, I think the lack of sidewalks is another one of those "southern" traditions, like pageants and nepotism.

Our idiot Remax realtor told us that the only sidewalks are usually in the black neighborhoods because they don't have cars to get around Shocked.... and then he told us some stupid racist joke that during hurricanes the "escape route" signs are turned around in these same neighborhoods to point towards the coast, instead of away. Hopefully, this scumbag is out of business by now - jerk.

Evil Elvis's picture
Submitted by Evil Elvis on Thu, 02/19/2009 - 11:15am.

Refusing to adhere to the fundamental driving creed that slower traffic merge to the right. There also seems to be a steadfast determination to only look forward while slowly driving in the left lane, too.

This ReMax cretin ... fat dude with a funny last name?

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Thu, 02/19/2009 - 11:53am.

fat dude, yes... wears a rug (me thinks)... mostly works at Summergrove in "eat a cow" county... oh, and he doesn't like strong-willed, opinionated women... females should shut-up, look perty and stay in the kitchen, or bedroom.

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