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Richmond County schools district may consider privatizing bus system

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When another school year began with late buses, disgruntled drivers and a flood of complaints to the Richmond County school system’s Transportation Department, the situation got school board member Jack Padgett Jr. thinking.

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Trainee Cathy Dunn practiced checking the air brake during training in July at the Augusta-Richmond County bus depot. Two private companies have approached the Richmond County school district about hiring them to operate the bus system.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Trainee Cathy Dunn practiced checking the air brake during training in July at the Augusta-Richmond County bus depot. Two private companies have approached the Richmond County school district about hiring them to operate the bus system.

If the district can’t guarantee that buses run on time or keep dependable drivers, maybe someone else can do it better.

Padgett said privatizing a school district’s transportation department becomes an option when the system wants to save money or become more efficient, and it’s something he said could be an improvement for Richmond County.

“I don’t know if it’s a condemnation on us as a system or what, but we put a tremendous amount of effort into this transportation system in the last several years, and nothing we do seems to be working,” Padgett said. “The private sector, when it works right, demands a lot more efficiency. That, to me, says that maybe we need to look at privatization and go from there.”

At least two private transportation companies have approached the district about running its bus system. It’s a move school officials say has not yet been looked into, but one several board members are now pursuing.

Board member Jimmy Atkins has asked for a discussion about privatization to be added to the student services agenda for the board’s Sept. 13 committee meetings. He hopes an item for voting will then be added to the Sept. 20 board meeting so members can authorize the administration to start interviewing companies.

“If there is a way for us to save money and these (companies) come in and say they can do a better job at running the transportation part, me personally, I would be in favor of that,” Atkins said.

Only two Georgia school districts, Dalton and Savannah-Chatham County, outsource their bus systems to a private company, according to the state Department of Education. Both use First Student, which e-mailed Richmond County school board members Aug. 12 offering its services. Another company, Student Transportation of America, contacted Padgett on Aug. 17 and offered a free feasibility study to find out how much outsourced busing would cost Richmond County.

“I know everyone is going to think this is a reactive response, but if only two systems in the state are currently doing this, maybe we could for once be one of those trendsetters,” Atkins said.

Richmond County schools currently budgets $9.8 million for its transportation department, which drives 22,000 students on 432 routes using 140 to 148 buses daily.

In comparison, Savannah-Chatham County pays First Student $13.1 million a year to transport 20,000 students on 315 routes with 315 buses.

The Savannah school district first privatized its bus system in 1998 with Laidlaw Trans­port and switched to First Student in 2006 after Laidlaw could not maintain drivers or run timely routes, according to Otis Brock, the district’s chief operations officer.

Brock said that with the right leadership in place, First Student has saved the district money and increased efficiency. A recent evaluation showed it would cost the district a little more than $14 million to run its own buses.

“A huge benefit to have …your school system be run by an outside entity and an independent entity – it takes a little bit of a burden off the school system to do that function so the school system can focus more on education,” Brock said.

In the first 18 months of the First Student contract, Brock said, there were some growing pains in which buses ran late and students weren’t picked up. But overall, the partnership has been an improvement, he said.

Maureen Richmond, the director of media relations for First Student, said the company can purchase a school system’s bus fleet and offer jobs to current transportation employees.

In Savannah, drivers start at $12 an hour with First Student, Brock said.

During the Richmond County school board’s forum Tuesday, acting Superintendent James Whit­son said one concern about privatization would be selling the system’s buses and not having the capital to buy them back if needed.

Selling buses to a private company is an option, not a requirement, according to Pete Pearson, an executive vice president with Student Transportation of America.

At the beginning of a partnership with a school district, Student Transportation evaluates the district and designs a contract to fit the system’s requirements. On average, about 80 percent of a district’s drivers end up transferring to the company, which helps its goal of remaining local, Pearson said.

Both companies that have courted Richmond County say being a part of the community is a part of their operation. Dalton’s First Student buses shuttled soldiers to Atlanta as they were departing for Iraq, and the company holds family events for its drivers in Savannah.

The Dalton school district has contracted with First Student since 2001 but has had a privatized bus system since its beginning. The district, which has 7,218 students and 37 buses, pays First Stu­dent $3 million a year, according to Transportion Director BeLinda Parrish.

The contract includes all salaries, benefits, maintenance and operations and is paid for monthly by the school system.

“Some systems look down on (privatization), but you know what? These are the same drivers I’ve been seeing for 10 years now,” Parrish said. “They provide so much for us, not just safety-wise for the drivers, but also for our students. They’re just very active for our community.”

Privatization is not always a good fit. Atlanta Public Schools used to contract with Laidlaw but switched to running the department in-house in 2000.

Keith Bromery, the school system’s director of media relations, said it’s difficult for a large district to depend on a private company for a service that not many other sources provide. Atlanta has almost 50,000 students.

If the school system becomes dissatisfied with the service but has already sold all of its buses, it ends up with few options.

“When you do it yourself, you have more control over the cost,” Bromery said. “When you outsource it, you run the risk that the cost may start off low, but it can fluctuate. It can go up … and what are you going to say? ‘We’ll find someone else?’ ”

Some regions of the country outsource school buses more than others. Virtually all of New England, Wisconsin and Ohio’s school transportation is privatized, while states such as Virginia and Georgia are mostly independent. South Carolina is unique because it’s the only state that owns and maintains its entire bus fleet for all public schools.

There is no particular reason for choosing to outsource school bus services, said David Hobson, the executive director of the Nation­al School Transportation Asso­ciation.

“A lot of times, it’s driven by service and bus issues,” Hobson said. “But sometimes it’s the politics of the school board and politics of the local government.”

Richmond County board members say the idea of privatization is still just an idea. But with the unhappy drivers and an overwhelmed staff, it might become more of a reality, Padgett said.

“I do know – and it’s a sad fact – that politics has a big hand in the (transportation) department’s problems,” he said. “This would be one way of taking that out.”

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Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 08/28/11 - 03:16 am
0
0
About time to discuss &

About time to discuss & consider this idea!!

The school system administration should focus on Education, especially since 25 out of 100 in the RC system drop out or are kicked out before graduation costing the tax payers over $100,000.00 per pupil.

Most school systems have a few problems in their transportation department and could benefit by hiring our outside private company that specializes in transportation. However, our school system had A LOT OF PROBLEMS with the transportation and it is almost guaranteed that we will save tax dollars while providing a better service - why then would this even be a question?

Privatize transportation and look at other areas as well from maintenance to food services -- If the BOE would FOCUS on EDUCATION then maybe, just maybe we could improve our systems learning environments along with test scores and graduation rates.

thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 08/28/11 - 04:17 am
0
0
Yes-get the Board of

Yes-get the Board of Education out of transportation and into education-as someone in years past who provided tires & retreading to the BOE I had to deal with elected politicians who knew nothing about tires but a lot about political perks.. Education is too important to share the emphasis with non-education matters. Please outsource.

nothin2show4it
120
Points
nothin2show4it 08/28/11 - 07:06 am
0
0
Privatization isn't the
Unpublished

Privatization isn't the answer. It will only mean higher taxes and employees making less money.

ironpurps
183
Points
ironpurps 08/28/11 - 07:32 am
0
0
There are two choices for

There are two choices for RCBOE transportation system. 1. Get someone competent to run the system or 2. Privatize. Like a BOE member stated, it doesn't help when over 20% of the drivers were called in 'sick' the first day of school. That is ridiculous! Where is the pride in their jobs? Most of them do a great job but those that laid out without serious cause, that is shameful.

catfish20
258
Points
catfish20 08/28/11 - 08:06 am
0
0
Privatize, Privatize, and

Privatize, Privatize, and Privatize.....the sooner the better.

HephzibahGuy
8
Points
HephzibahGuy 08/28/11 - 11:32 am
0
0
Its been proven that what

Its been proven that what privatization really does it make a few people wealthy while taking jobs from working people and replacing them with lower salaries and no benefits. And if you look at the privatized systems in the northeast, you will probably find that there is a union involved in some way. Privatization is not much different from what most other business is doing by sending their work to cheaper labor in China. Its not a good thing for anyone involved except the owners of the private companies.

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 08/28/11 - 01:44 pm
0
0
Hepzibahguy, as long as the

Hepzibahguy, as long as the tax paying public is better served by privitization, then that is what we should do. I don't mean to be harsh, but the local, state, and federal governments are not a jobs program.

im_jus_sayn
0
Points
im_jus_sayn 08/28/11 - 02:27 pm
0
0
Ironpurps please get the

Ironpurps please get the facts first before you blast the drivers...20% is a lot when they are extremely SHORT of drivers!!! If 20% unexpectedly called in to work on the 1st day 50% of the children would have really gotten home late. The biggest complaint with that was magnet kids. They changed the whole way the magnet kids had been transported home. Now I agree with you on getting someone in there that can run it and run it properly. But the board members only quote what is given to them instead of getting the facts 1st! It's politics throw the little people under the bus...you should have came to the forum you could have seen them in action! (Square dancing around issues!) To be a bus driver is a gift and a love for your job to transport 100's of kids daily from all walks of life under one little 10x10 tin can on a hot 107 heat index day (which is hotter on the inside of the bus) and do this everyday!!! Hats off to the bus drivers!!!!

antonio
0
Points
antonio 08/28/11 - 03:12 pm
0
0
Privatize!! The Board of

Privatize!! The Board of education need to tell us as their constituents the pros and cons of privatizing our school bus system and then move forward after they talk to us the people they work for. I am pretty sure we have problems, but taking this approach only shows the incompetent of the board of Education of handling small problem within the department. I think it’s time to start replacing board members. Enough is enough! The problems we have as a school system is far worse than the transportation dept. It’s time for a change. If this goes in effect I can promise you everyone up for election will be replace. This is not a solution, but a reaction of bad leadership by certain board memebers. Stop playing politics and lead! Wake up Richmond County!

Tots
25936
Points
Tots 08/28/11 - 03:15 pm
0
0
OK something does not add up

OK something does not add up if>>>Richmond County schools currently budgets $9.8 million for its transportation department, which drives 22,000 students on 432 routes using 140 to 148 buses daily.

In comparison, Savannah-Chatham County pays First Student $13.1 million a year to transport 20,000 students on 315 routes with 315 buses.

Looks like Richmond County has more students,more routes less buses and spends less money than Chatham County???? MUCH LESS!!!!
Looks like something is working but politics and friends are trying to do a back room deal to sell this service to a private company..First they have to get the parents panicked and not seeing the whole picture get some of the trouble makers who drive buses to start yelling and fussing which isn't very hard...As for those drivers who didn't show up the first day of school many are out on sick leave ..But we still have drivers who get activities,after school programs and extra work yet can't even make it to work on time and miss many days in the year...Why are they calling drivers who quit or retired and promising them anything they want ?Why are they treating the drivers who show up ,who believe in their job and doing what's asked of them wrong? Why treat your older more experienced drivers like dirt? I think they have a plan already in place..
Funny how they just got those GPS systems working and have people in the office who really know what's going on now...Please look at the bigger picture here something smells very nasty.....

Tots
25936
Points
Tots 08/28/11 - 03:19 pm
0
0
antonio@3:12-Very well

antonio@3:12-Very well said...

allhans
23645
Points
allhans 08/28/11 - 06:19 pm
0
0
Okay, drivers. You see what

Okay, drivers. You see what can happen now, don't you.

Go ahead, kick up a fuss and lay off the job, then when you no longer have a job, don't cry to the rest of us.

(Be grateful for even small Blessings!)

allhans
23645
Points
allhans 08/28/11 - 06:24 pm
0
0
Three years ago I lived a few

Three years ago I lived a few doors down from a school bus stop. Every school day, bright and early in the morning, there came this huge lumbering bus, stopped at a house 2 doors past the bus stop and sat blowing the horn until the child came out.
What a way to run a bus system. Door to door service and then you expect a shorter time....

Tots
25936
Points
Tots 08/28/11 - 11:04 pm
0
0
I'm very grateful for what i

I'm very grateful for what i have and strive to do my best every day it's really hard when the moral is so low..But i leave whatever is to happen up to someone higher than myself. They are doing much better about stopping that door to door service this year...They used to cave to the parents wishes it was like a private taxi service for certain parents..They need to stop giving door to door pickup to the kids in alternative school...The parents still yelling and complaining the most are the ones who go to the magnet schools..They believe they are owed door to door service and we the taxpayers should foot the bill...This new change they did will work and could work better if the people in the office would just listen to the drivers....Those parents need to be thankful their kids are going to better schools and have better teachers ..Most people have to pay for that by sending their kids to a private school...Stop allowing certain parents special treatment.. Stop allowing people who are paid to drive buses to just ride on them as monitors and still get the higher pay..Why do we have so many drivers this year when we need drivers so bad working in the office??? Correction i guess they aren't drivers any longer but those new jobs were never posted...What up with that? Why all the new office jobs being made in the last three years? I tell you they have a plan and it's just falling into place they only needed to TICK off the parents and enough drivers ....PRIVATE is not best research this .......

seenitB4
87245
Points
seenitB4 08/28/11 - 08:14 pm
0
0
I agree with you

I agree with you tots.....just wish the school system would listen to you...just makes good common sense..

antonio
0
Points
antonio 08/28/11 - 09:08 pm
0
0
@ allhans why would they cry?

@ allhans why would they cry? They will have a job; the county will be the one suffering from by bad decisions from the board. The children can’t get to school without them. It can be a privatization or the same management you still have to treat the drivers correctly. They are people too!! To all Richmond County Bus Drivers you have done nothing wrong. I have lived in this county for over 30 years. It’s about time you guys stand up for yourself. The bus drivers for what I see have the most difficult job of everyone in the school system and you guys deserve more respect from the board and the administrators. Stick together and work together as one. Don’t be intimidated by privatization. It will be the county as a whole that will be hurt by it if they don’t stand up and speak out. It has it pros, but more cons than pros! To all the Board members I pray this is not a form of retaliation on our bus drivers for speaking out. I thank the system can use a little work, but privatization on our system is not the kind of leadership we voted for. WE will replace you if you can’t be a leader and make rational decisions.

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 08/28/11 - 08:49 pm
0
0
The companies offer a free

The companies offer a free feasibility study? I'm sure it's totally impartial and often shows that privatization isn't the best option.

what is wrong
1
Points
what is wrong 08/28/11 - 09:48 pm
0
0
I take my hat off to the

I take my hat off to the drivers, and teachers that work in any school system. Taking their jobs from them will not solve anything, people will still find a reason to complain. If the drivers & teachers remain home for a couple of days, maybe the board will listen to them then. Everyone can always say what needs to happen to someone else's job, and know nothing about their struggles. Go shadow a driver, and see what their day is like. They need to start with the department head, and work their way down. So we call in a private company to run transportation, and the property taxes get ran up too. Some people are already struggling to make ends meet now, so what happens then. Some will lose their homes, move to nearby counties, and the rest who knows. Start with replacing your board memebers, they all talk out of both sizes of their mouth. When dealing with the public they say what you want to hear, when behind close doors they sing another song. Some of the board members could care less about the drivers, unless it concerns them personally. Isn't that right Atkins, you made sure yours was comfortable. What about the other students not on your kids bus. The board members are the problem for allowing things to go unsolve for so long, privatize it!!!!

showboat
336
Points
showboat 08/28/11 - 10:51 pm
0
0
You see the one that want to
Unpublished

You see the one that want to privatize it watch those (2) very careful snake in the grass!!!!!!!

emergencyfan
0
Points
emergencyfan 08/29/11 - 11:43 am
0
0
Tots, gas is higher in

Tots, gas is higher in Savannah than here, there may be other expenses that are higher. You might be comparing oranges to tangerines :-) I say let the company who offered the FREE feasibility assessment do so. What have we got to lose?

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