Belleville school district taking over bus services for area students

Beginning next school year, Belleville District 201 will run its own school bus services for Belleville East, Belleville West and the elementary schools in the district’s boundaries.

District officials had been researching for several months the cost of either continuing to contract with a transportation company or beginning to offer in-house school bus services. District 201 School Board members voted Monday to make the switch.

During a special meeting at 5 p.m., the board approved the following:

▪  Extension of its current contract with First Student, Inc., for transportation services through summer school, from June 30 to July 31.

▪  Authorizing a school official to seek quotes for the lease purchase of a fleet of school buses for in-house transportation needs. Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer said the district will need 216 buses.

▪  Intergovernmental agreement with the seven elementary school districts within District 201’s boundaries, offering bus services to them. Those districts include Belleville 118, High Mount 116, Wolf Branch 113, Pontiac 105, Belle Valley 119, Grant 110 and Whiteside 115.

▪  Contract to hire a director of transportation for next school year. Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the district’s new director is currently a site director for First Student.

One of the ways District 201 hopes to ease the transition for students is by employing some of the same people they’re used to seeing, including some bus drivers from First Student.

“The best thing that could happen is that a student won’t know the difference. They won’t know that the districts have taken over this operation,” Dosier said.

Part of the reason District 201 wanted to take over bus services for students in the area is because of a decrease in revenue for transportation from property taxes and state payments, according to Mentzer. He said District 201 is facing “difficult financial times,” but the goal is to avoid cuts.

“We’re trying to find creative ways to save money and keep programs intact,” Mentzer said.

The district currently spends about $4.4 million on transportation, Mentzer said, but officials think there are ways to save money when the district controls the service. They found that some routes within the district’s boundaries can be combined, for example.

District 201’s students make up about 50 percent of the routes the buses will take, according to Dosier. Students in Belleville District 118, which has 11 elementary schools, make up about 25 percent of the routes. The other six elementary districts’ students combined make up the remaining 25 percent of routes.

Dosier said the elementary school districts will pay District 201 on a per-route basis.

While this will give District 201 a new source of revenue, the district will also have to take on new costs.

Last month, the school board approved a letter of intent to lease purchase the property at 2012 Mascoutah Ave. in Belleville, which is currently a First Student transportation facility.

Mentzer said the district is projecting that the cost to purchase the facility will be between $2.1 million and $2.5 million. But it is waiting for the results of an appraisal before it will bring a purchase agreement to the school board for a vote. Until then, it will lease the facility for $24,000 per month.

Dosier said district officials have “done a lot of homework on this,” looking at payroll, insurance and other expenses for which District 201 will be responsible, and they believe there will be savings annually.

“The reason that we’re taking this pretty dramatic step is that we think that we can do this a little bit more efficiently,” he said. “We will be able to study the operations on a daily basis, and hopefully, we can save a significant amount of money not for just District 201, but also District 118 and the six other elementary school districts that are going to do this with us.”

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

At a glance

Belleville District 201 is looking for school bus drivers for the 2017-18 school year, who will serve students at Belleville East, Belleville West and seven elementary school districts: Belleville 118, High Mount 116, Wolf Branch 113, Pontiac 105, Belle Valley 119, Grant 110 and Whiteside 115.

  • What: Bus driver organizational meeting and dinner
  • When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 5
  • Where: Belleville West High School cafeteria, 4063 Frank Scott Parkway West, Belleville