by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyheraldcom
The bus drivers wanted to stop. Stop the opinions. Get facts and figures instead.
Stop the arguing and divisiveness. Find understanding and agreement instead.
So, at the January 17th, 2019 Ava R-1 School Board meeting, the Ava Bus Route Owners Association offered to fund half of an independent audit of the current student busing system.
The board agreed.
In a 4-2 vote the Ava R-1 School Board approved funding of the other half of the audit.
TransPar School Bus Consultants (SBC) of South Carolina were hired for the work.
The SBC results are now in, and include:
Ava’s 85-minute run times are longer than the 60-minute national average. Ava also runs buses with fewer students on them than the average (51 percent full vs. the recommended 70-80 percent).
However, loading more kids on each bus would make the ride times even longer. Given the rural and dispersed nature of the Ava school district, “SBC believes the current routing structure is efficient given the constraints of the district.”
Ava buses carry approximately 678 students back and forth to school and other events. The total budget for busing is $687,030. That breaks down to $215 per bus per day, around 45% cheaper than the Missouri average of $328 per bus per day.
SBC also found that Ava’s total transportation budget was 5.2% of its overall budget, well within the Missouri average of 4-6%.
According to SBC, districts that contract with one provider for transportation services typically require use of buses that average eight years in age.
The average age of the bus fleet being used by Ava contractors is 20 years old.
A single transportation source would include bus drivers, but also dispatchers, office space, administration staff and other overhead costs. Because of the way bus routes are owned and managed in Ava, many of those expenses aren’t incurred.
According to the SBC report, “The overhead costs for Ava contractors to provide service is 20-25 percent less when compared to traditional contractors.”
SBC found two other school districts that compared to Ava in terms of size and service area characteristics.
When comparing how much the bus drivers earned, Ava’s driver wages of $200 per day are 12-30 percent lower than the $225-$261 per day being paid drivers in those districts.
The SBC audit concludes that “Ava contracted service rates are reasonable compared to other districts in the area.”
The report also notes that a newer fleet of buses would increase service quality and decrease maintenance costs, but would require an increase in contractor rates of 8-11%.
The audit recommends a pay raise for bus drivers (mainly to compensate for the 25% longer run times drivers are performing).
SBC recommends “increasing the paved mileage rate from $1.88 per mile to $1.97 per mile, and the dirt mileage rate from $2.65 per mile to $2.77 per mile.”
This would raise the average Ava bus driver’s earnings per day from $200 to $218.50, which would still be lower than SBC found in comparable districts.
SBC also audited the contract between the Ava-R1 district and the bus drivers. It found shortcomings on both sides.
The contract doesn’t have language covering fleet or service requirements, so the school is unable to require newer buses or better service from the drivers.
The contract is also in perpetuity, which means there is no date specified for re-evaluating driver compensation.
The SBC report is expected to be a discussion topic at the next meeting of the Ava R-1 School Board.
That meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 20th at 6:30 p.m. in the board of education room on the school campus.
Meetings are open to the public.
Do stop in.
(Editor’s note – the complete Transpar-School Bus Consultant document can be downloaded at: tinyurl.com/ava-bus-audit. Also, elsewhere in this issue is a Letter to the Editor from former Ava School Board member Troy Tredway commenting on the SBC report.)