District 201 superintendent talks about changes to school bus service
Belleville District 201 officials say the cost of taking over school bus services for students across eight districts has been “significantly” cheaper than what they initially thought.
Since April, the high school district has been preparing to offer transportation services in-house during the 2017-18 school year rather than hiring a private company.
Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer said the actual cost of both a fleet of buses and a building at which to store them came in under budget, as well as the financing for each. Insurance for liability and workers compensation has also cost less than anticipated, he said.
The district’s estimated long-term savings could also be higher than expected, according to Mentzer. Compared to the cost of contracting with a bus company, district officials previously thought they could save between $400,000 and $500,000 annually by offering the service themselves.
An updated estimate for that savings wasn’t immediately available Monday night.
The district agreed to its eight-year lease purchase agreement for 216 school buses in May. The cost is about $10.8 million.
Seven elementary school districts have agreed to pay District 201 for busing on a per-route basis, including Belleville 118, High Mount 116, Wolf Branch 113, Pontiac 105, Belle Valley 119, Grant 110 and Whiteside 115. Those are the districts that used to negotiate a transportation contract with First Student, Inc. together.
Mentzer said two other school districts have inquired about future transportation agreements with District 201. He declined to name those districts.
Because of its size, District 118 has agreed to take on more costs than the other districts, including reimbursing District 201 about $2.5 million of the $10.8 million cost for buses it will use. Mentzer said District 201 hasn’t yet billed District 118 for that payment.
District 118 serves nearly 4,000 students in 11 schools. District 201 has an enrollment of almost 5,000 students in two schools.
About half of the 216 buses have been delivered this summer to Belleville West High School, where Mentzer said they have been inspected and staff have installed radios, cameras and GPS.
Soon, the district will have a permanent place to store them. The District 201 School Board voted Monday to approve an installment contract for the almost $2.2 million purchase of the property at 2012 Mascoutah Ave. in Belleville, which is currently a First Student transportation facility.
District officials had estimated the cost of the facility could be up to $2.5 million.
Mentzer said District 201 will officially take over ownership of the building on Aug. 1, but it will be moving buses there as First Student relocates its buses in the meantime.
School board members also voted to hire eight bus drivers during their Monday night meeting, adding to the staff of 195 drivers hired in June. Superintendent Jeff Dosier said many of the drivers previously worked for First Student driving the same routes for Belleville-area students.
Some of them, including the eight hired Monday, are new drivers who need to be trained and licensed.
Overall, Dosier said the transition “seems to be going smoothly.” District 201’s existing transportation contract with First Student ends July 31.
The school board will eventually have to consider fuel bids for the buses.
In other business
Board members voted Monday to approve the following:
▪ District 201’s first student board representatives, Shiza Jamil, a Belleville East High School senior, and Jacob McCloskey, a Belleville West High School senior.
Dosier said the students will give the board monthly reports about their schools just as their principals do.
Their first meeting will be next month, but Dosier said they won’t be expected to have a report prepared.
▪ Abbott EMS and Medstar Ambulance Service medical standby services for the Belleville West and Belleville East 2017 football seasons, respectively.
The Belleville District 201 School Board meets next at 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at 920 N. Illinois St. in Belleville.