Dallas schools aim to streamline district busing
(Texas) Dallas Independent School District is in the process of building its own busing system and while officials note that doing so is uncharted territory for them, they believe doing so will be more efficient and cost effective.
Beginning August 1, the district will be in charge of its own fleet of buses and drivers, instead of relying on a third party operator that previously provided transportation services to Dallas schools.
District leaders said one goal in developing their own transportation system will be to make bus routes more organized. Currently, the district offers 850 different bus routes to the estimated 29,000 students who take the bus each day.
“The reason we have so many routes is because we have a lot of what we call ‘choice schools’–whether they’re magnet schools or transformation schools–and with those programs we bus kids from all over Dallas County, and that drives up the cost,” Scott Layne, deputy superintendent of operations for Dallas ISD, said in an interview. “We’re looking forward to being able to analyze those routes and see if there’s anything we can do in terms of consolidating some routes to make them more efficient and cost-effective.”
The district decided to take the step after a long and frustrating relationship with the current provider, known as Dallas County Schools.
The agency—which provided buses and crossing guards for Dallas ISD, as well as schools in Cedar Hill, Lancaster and DeSoto—has been under intense scrutiny for poor service, unsafe driving practices and corruption.
Federal prosecutors allege that agency administrators accepted millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from a bus camera company. The agency was also forced to fire 13 drivers and suspend hundreds others for driving violations including running red lights and unsafe student pickups.
The agency’s plan to spend $50 million on a sophisticated camera system to catch automobile drivers illegally passing buses and thus generate far more in traffic fines also didn’t work out, leaving the agency to cover the cost of the cameras itself.
School officials have complained that the bus service was chronically late getting kids to school, ran overcrowded buses and passed on to the district the higher operating costs caused by mismanagement.
The final straw came in 2017, when voters rejected a ballot measure that would have bailed out the cash-strapped agency.
Layne said the project will cost the district about $54 million, a portion of which will go toward one-time costs that include the purchase of GPS and route management software. In total, the district expects to hire more than 1,100 drivers and office staff, and operate more than 960 buses.
Dallas schools are in the process of seeking out drivers. So far, the district has received about 625 applications for the 765 bus driver positions it aims to fill, but Layne said that he isn’t too worried about the possibility of starting the school year short.
“We feel pretty good as far as where we’re at with drivers–we’re still a few months out,” he said. “We’ll also be looking at utilizing coaches and other staff that want to get certified to drive the buses, which will allow us to fill in where we have vacancies and absences.”
In addition to having the ultimate authority in deciding bus routes and which drivers are hired, Layne said he’s excited that schools and parents can reach out to Dallas ISD with concerns and actually get help directly from the district–something he said can potentially build trust within the school community.
“It’s a huge undertaking but I think we’re on the right track, and hopefully we’ll put out a product we can be proud of, and the parents and students as well,” Layne said.