School district transportation audit proposed : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|School district transportation audit proposed|
|Superintendent: District needs to prepare for further state funding cuts |
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Oswego School District's transportation department is in need of some changes, so Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt is considering an audit of the entire program.
Transportation was discussed at Monday's school district board meeting as board members approved a three-year lease of 15 buses. (See related article below)
Wendt said it could take a minimum of three months and perhaps up to five months to do a comprehensive study of the system.
"We need to look not only at the efficiency but look at the structure," he said.
Wendt noted that the district is using two-thirds of its own employees and one-third contracted employees through Illinois Central to transport students to and from school.
"We need to decide our future-will it be all Oswego, all Illinois Central or keep a mixture?" he asked.
Wendt said comments from Dr. Paul O'Malley, assistant superintendent for finance, that the state's transportation reimbursement payments to the district have been reduced also must be considered.
"The state could reduce its contribution even more than it has so we need to position the district as having even less state money," he said.
Wendt said the study could be done in-house, done by an outside firm or a combination. He said they would contact the Illinois Association of School Boards for assistance and suggestions of firms that could be helpful.
His preference would be for district employees to do most of the work. He could not estimate a cost, but said it would be minimal because the district is a member of the IASB and a large amount of work would be done in-house.
He said an audit would include everything connected to transportation.
"I think we need to insure that this would be the most effective and efficient transportation department possible.
"And this is not the only one to be audited. We're in the midst of looking at the teaching and learning department, and we're going to look at others across the district to be sure we are both effective and efficient," he said.
Transportation has surfaced because of issues that are now before the board, he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Wendt talked about plans for route improvements that had not come to fruition before school started.
The district had been working with municipal, county and other agencies to install sidewalks, paint crosswalks, install signs, and other items to make it safe for students to walk to and from school in several areas now considered hazardous.
However, because not all of the improvements had been done before school started, it has become necessary to continue busing some students.
He said he is still working with these agencies to resolve the problems, but could not say when this might be done.
Wendt said he also sees this as "...an opportunity to validate the great work our bus drivers are doing in the department. I've met with all the drivers. I've ridden two routes and I've made a commitment to ride one route a month. And I have staff members riding routes."
He commented on the responsibilities that school bus drivers have and said things have changed since he was transported from his Kansas farm to and from school every day. Roads are much busier and drivers responsibilities are greater today, he said.
"I was told that over 11,000 students (out of the 17,739 enrolled) were eligible for busing. There are some challenges in the system but we need to be sure we're spending every taxpayer dollar wisely. If we can become more efficient with transportation that frees up dollars for other purposes in the system," Wendt said.
He said a comprehensive review of the system also would include looking at a pay-to-ride fee which some districts have imposed to reduce their transportation costs.
It would be used for students who are not eligible for bus service but want to use it, he said.
He compared it to a public transportation system where a user pays a monthly fee. A bus would be assigned to pick up just these students each day. The cost per student would be determined by the district and whether it wanted to subsidize any part of the cost.
He said a board member had asked whether they could charge a fee to make up for lost state aid.
"Assessing parents for lost state aid is a different issue and we don't even know if this would be legal. If legal, we would bring it to the board as a separate issue," he said.
Wendt said they hope to have more information on doing an audit in September.
If approved by the board, he would like to have it completed in time to implement any changes at the start of the second semester.