Local school districts working toward plan to establish their own bus services

O’FALLON – Changes could be coming to local bus routes if a plan for the four local school districts to establish their own transportation system were to come to fruition. 

O’Fallon/Shiloh school districts began analysis of transportation costs and services over the summer, as an area where potential cost savings could be found. The preliminary direction of the analysis was for the districts to combine transportation services and become self-operational. All four districts, Shiloh District 85, O’Fallon District 90, Central District 104 and OTHS District 203, currently use Illinois Central for bus services and EMT for special education transportation.  

Superintendents have been in communication with Belleville schools that went self-operational this school year, tracking their methods and savings as a model for O’Fallon/Shiloh districts. At their December board meetings, all districts approved the creation of a Transportation Director position as the first step to becoming self-operational as early as July 2019. 

Meetings have taken place over the last couple of months with Illinois Central, and recent proposals may have superintendents and school boards looking in a different direction for the 2019-2020 school year than originally planned. 

At the OTHS school board meeting on January 24, Superintendent Dr. Darcy Benway presented information to the board from Illinois Central with discounts and other opportunities for additional savings. The most recent proposals from Illinois Central have estimated cost savings for OTHS of $216,000 per year.

Illinois Central is offering a seven percent rate decrease for the 2019-2020 school year, an immediate $85,000 savings for OTHS. Because school districts are not charged sales tax, a proposal for the schools to directly purchase the fuel instead of Illinois Central would provide an estimated $6,000 savings. 

Special education transportation is currently provided by EMT, and Illinois Central is proposing to purchase the needed vans to provide that service instead. Dr. Benway indicated that the district is currently charged on a per pupil basis with EMT, Illinois Central’s proposal would coordinate special education transportation across the four districts and will not be charged on a per pupil basis. The potential savings to OTHS is estimated to be $25,000 and would total $100,000-125,000 across the four districts. 

The greatest savings opportunity presented by Illinois Central was to coordinate bell schedules across the four districts. Creating efficiencies with scheduling would reduce the number of buses needed for Illinois Central by 12-15 buses. This would be an estimated $425,000 across the four districts, $100,000 specifically for OTHS. 

Dr. Benway indicated that coordinating the bell schedules will likely alter start and end times a little for each district, and would also require the academic calendars across the four districts to be identical. Coordinated academic calendars across the districts has been a desire of many parents, and the OTHS school board saw this as an added benefit to Illinois Central’s proposals. 

The early estimates for savings for OTHS if the transportation services became self-operational were about $250,000. The recommendation from Dr. Benway, which the board agreed with, was to pursue the proposal by Illinois Central for the 2019-2020 school year. The estimated savings with Illinois Central are close enough to the savings they were hoping to receive going self-operational without the liability. 

The possibility of self-operational transportation services is still an option for the districts in the future, but will not be considered for the 2019-2020 school year at OTHS. At the time of the OTHS school board meeting, the other three districts had already held their January board meetings, so those boards will receive the information of savings specific to their districts at their February meetings.