District 281 bus savings estimated at $1.5 million

school buses from frontBuses transporting students in District 281 are more technologically equipped this year – and, it seems, cheaper to operate.
Changing bus service providers has saved District 281 more than $1.5 million dollars, according to information presented during the school board’s Jan. 7 work session. Director of Business Services Jeff Priess said the district’s total transportation budget is forecasted to come in around $7.9 million by June. In comparison, the district spent $9.6 million ($9.5 million, minus the severance payments) on transportation costs last year. The savings is due, Priess said, to the district outsourcing its transportation system services to First Student. The savings could be closer to $1.6 million when the final numbers come in.
“We had a very expensive model in place (before),”  he said.
More than $3 million was spent this year on the First Student contract, which  provides regular transportation to-and-from school, midday Kindergarten transportation, shuttles, late activity buses and summer school special education transportation. Contracted special education transportation services provided by Adams Services and the Metropolitan Transportation Network, come in at around $2 million. Management, operations, leasing, and special education driver and monitor salaries make up the remaining $2.9 million.
The district currently runs 71 bus routes per day. Priess said two routes have been eliminated from the midday drives, with 19 routes remaining. More efficiencies like that could be made for next year, he said.
Jared Reid, a First Student location manager, outlined some of the technological changes on buses this year allowing buses to be tracked, drivers to be kept accountable and students to be monitored. First Student is leasing the district’s buses, and has provided the technological upgrades for each. Every bus now has GPS in it, allowing First Student to track each bus using software called Ground Traffic Control to within two minutes of its last position. That delay is due to the time it takes for a signal to bounce of the satellite, Reid said. This allows First Student to track each stop the bus makes, down to the exact second. Timing and bus speed reports are also generated.
An electronic “pre-trip” checklist requires drivers to scan 11 inspection zones on the bus before departing for a route. If a repair need is detected, it is routed to maintenance for repair. Prior to this, drivers used a sheet of paper, Reid said, and the new electronic system not only records every inspection but allows for faster repairs. This same scanning device plugs into a cradle on the bus, where it automatically downloads information. Drivers also use the device to punch on and off the clock.
Some of the technology, like a dual camera recording system with sound, is meant to record both route driving and the half-hour after a bus has been shut off for the day. To date, more than 115 requests for tape to aid in correcting student behavior have been made since September, Reid said, and video downloads are available the same day.
“Some of this footage I will tell you is the most boring video you will ever see,” Reid said.
Finally, A Child Check-Mate device requires drivers to go to the back of the bus at the end of a route to press a stop-and-check button. This verifies that the driver has checked the bus for sleeping children. An accompanying device, Theft-Mate, contains a motion detector, which tells anyone not authorized to get on the bus that the authorities have been notified, Reid said.
“The GPS and cameras fit with no modifications,” Reid told the Sun Post. “I do not know what the cost is per bus, but we expect the technology to last for the useful life of the bus. This is all new technology that First Student added to service the school district. Some of the buses did have cameras, but were not all live.  Now, every bus has two cameras and (both are) live whenever the bus is operating.”
The report also contained information on accidents and incidents recorded between September and December. With the exception of a hit and run incident in October (Reid declined to provide exact details, save to say that the incident was not the driver’s fault as someone had hit the bus and left), the majority of the 11 accidents reported involved side-swiping or tail swinging. An accident was defined as any incident which caused damage in excess of $100.

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