No support for private busing

Published 9:52 pm Friday, January 15, 2016

The concept of privatizing school transportation services got a cool reception from the Suffolk School Board Thursday night.

Douglas B. Dohey, chief of operations for Suffolk Public Schools, reported what he learned from talking with officials from Roanoke City Schools, which has a student body size similar to Suffolk’s 14,000-plus.

“I think there are more disadvantages than advantages, in my opinion,” Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney told the School Board. “It just shifts the responsibility. The same challenges would occur.”


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Dohey said Roanoke decided to outsource its transportation in 2009 because of the age of its bus fleet.

The division has a handful more schools than Suffolk does but operates in a much smaller area and has only 75 buses and 135 routes, compared to Suffolk’s 200 buses and more than 300 routes.

Pay for drivers starts at $14 and runs to $19, while in Suffolk it’s currently $12 to $19.

“We can see the square mileage is a big difference, as well as the number of routes,” Whitney said. “I’m not so sure it’s a comparable way of looking at it.”

He also added that many vendors charge per route.

“You can imagine the cost added,” he said.

Suffolk’s public schools have struggled to improve their transportation system in recent years after cost-cutting measures. However, Board Member Linda Bouchard said Thursday that she has not heard many complaints about the bus system lately.

Whitney was pleased to hear that.

“Absenteeism isn’t as high as it has been,” he said. “We do realize there are some areas we need to work on.”

Board Member Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck said she has previously worked in a division that outsourced its bus transportation.

“The problems were the same,” she said. “I don’t think there is a magic bullet with regard to this.”

Bouchard also noted that it can be difficult and expensive to regain control of school transportation once given up to a contractor, as the buses are sold to the company.

“If you fire them, you have no buses,” she said. “There’s sort of no going back.”

Nobody on the School Board expressed a desire during the meeting in continuing to explore the topic.