Following the money: That expensive bus service
Hillsborough County school officials have gotten no shortage of paid advice on how to manage their transportation costs.
The most recent consultant to tackle the issue, Gibson Consulting Group, laid out a plan that would save $15 million a year.
Much of it would come from phasing out courtesy busing, the practice of picking up students who live under two miles from their school. The state does not "pay" for this service. More accurately stated, the state does not award money for these trips from a dedicated transportation fund unless the district can prove it would be unsafe for that child to walk. What the district considers unsafe and what the state considers unsafe are two different things. And, as district officials will acknowledge, there are some courtesy stops that they approved years ago, when a particular location really was unsafe, and then never eliminated even though conditions changed.
Putting this problem in perspective: The district gets about $33 million a year in transportation money. It spends $73 million.
Here is a list, from the end of last school year, of schools with the number of courtesy riders attending each one. More than 10 percent of the riders - 13 percent, to be exact - lived in two fairly affluent suburban communities, Westchase and FishHawk Ranch.
The list also includes urban schools such as Potter and B.T. Washington Elementary; and numerous high schools.
The practice was costing the district nearly $10 million a year, according to the Gibson report.
Things have changed since then, according to transportation manager Jim Beekman. The district is using shuttles for some of the students who live close to the schools. The way these work, the regular bus picks up its students and drops them off. Then that same bus doubles back to the stop nearby to pick up the additional students. The reverse happens on the way home. Using this practice, the district can save some money on buses and drivers.
Details about courtesy busing, how much the district has saved, and other transportation issues will be provided at a 9 a.m. School Board workshop on Tuesday.
Officials, according to the agenda, will also discuss an idea to accelerate the purchase of new buses so they can "capture operational cost savings." Since 2014, the district has been on a schedule to replace 100 of its aging buses every year.