Bus outsource still on table

Published 10:38 pm Thursday, December 10, 2015

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney said he does not recommend outsourcing bus transportation, but a couple of School Board members still are interested in exploring the option.

School Board member David Mitnick brought up the topic at a September meeting and asked division leaders to look into it.

As it turned out, the Virginia School Boards Association already has looked into it.

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“While outsourcing may seem like a good option, especially when being described by a vendor, it does not guarantee lower costs or more effective operations,” a report from the school boards association states.

The association looked at five reports on privatization of school transportation systems and found some pitfalls. Districts often wound up spending more, especially since contractors have leverage once a school district sells its bus fleet. Contractors sometimes paid drivers less than the school division did, and hidden costs could also translate into a loss of money. Private companies cannot be held to the same standard of scrutiny as school districts because they are not subject to the same requirements for open meetings, public information and public input.

“It’s not something I would recommend at this point,” Whitney said in Thursday’s meeting upon presenting the Virginia School Board Association’s report.

Mitnick wanted to know if Whitney had talked to Roanoke City, a school division of similar size to Suffolk that has outsourced its transportation. Whitney said he had not but will do so. Whitney also said Suffolk’s land mass — it’s the largest city in the state by square miles — is a factor to take into consideration.

Whitney said he would bring back further input at a later date.