Despite costly error, Lansing school official calls bus outsourcing “absolutely” successful

Jul 30, 2015

The Lansing School District failed to realize hundreds of thousands of dollars in projected savings after it outsourced bus transportation. Peter Spadafore, President of the district’s Board of Education talks with Current State about what happened.


Lansing School Board President Peter Spadafore
Credit Courtesy photo / Lansing School District

Recently, Lansing School District officials acknowledged that an effort to save three-quarters of a million dollars in transportation costs fell seriously short. Last year, the district outsourced its bus transportation to Lansing’s Dean Transportation, projecting a savings of $760,000. The district says it ended up saving about $6,000.

With the district currently accepting bids to contract out custodial and other work, Current State host Mark Bashore speaks with Peter Spadafore, President of the Lansing School Board.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Why hundreds of thousands of dollars failed to materialize after the bus outsourcing 

 To say “failed to” is a little bit of a misnomer. We did in fact add cost to the busing situation in Lansing school district. We added 11 routes that weren’t initially bid by the consortium, so that added about $285,000 in costs that we would’ve had whether we went with the consortium or ran our busing program ourselves. We also failed to provide some routing data to the consortium when we initially bid out the project, so that was unexpected as well. And…those 11 buses were part of the extended day program at Eastern High School that was part of the turnaround plan for that school. So what it did is it moved the start time for Eastern two hours forward on Wednesdays resulting in additional bus runs. You’ve got to pay for those somehow, so those were costs that we incurred on our own.

One of the other reasons was we saw that the consortium (didn’t bill) as regularly as we thought so we weren’t able to catch the overage in time to reverse it. So we have asked the consortium, Dean Transportation, and our Operations Department to pay more close attention.

Are the key people responsible still with the district? 

We had a few folks turn over but no one has lost their job over this. (These were) some things that were unanticipated. And we have a very complicated transportation system. $760, 000 is a lot of money but we also have spent a lot of that money on enhanced services to students, so some of that is not what I would consider negative. $285,000 of that or more is routes we added to the system.

If you had to vote again on the bus outsourcing proposal, would you vote for or against it?

This has absolutely been a successful program. We’ve seen enhanced service and more reliable transportation for our students. So that’s a win in Lansing, I would be a yes again.

I do think we’ve made some changes to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. We have a better routing software now. We’re working with the ISD (Intermediate School District) to better understand our routes, we will be utilizing better ridership polices, and we’ll be using hubs and a more district wide calendar to ensure the bus routes are all streamlined across the district. So I think we’ve made a number of changes to address some of the concerns that have come out of this experience. 

On the Pathway Promise 

The heart of the Pathway Promise is making sure that we prepare every student for their post-secondary options. We have the Promise here in Lansing, and we want to develop pathways to get students to those promises so that they’re utilizing those promise dollars at higher education institutions, community colleges, vocational training, those types of things. So what we’re hoping to do is develop an academic model that clearly spells out, from pre-kindergarten until you leave the Lansing School District, the options available to you and the pathways we’d recommend you take to fully realize those options. And we need to then address our facilities. You know most of our buildings are eligible for AARP membership. The average age is over 55. So we’re looking at renovating, district wide, these buildings to make them suitable for a 21st century learning environment. And that’s just not possible in some of our spaces.

The proposal from the bond committee comes up with three high schools and three distinct pathways that would require about $120 million in renovations. That includes adding on to what is currently called Pattengill Middle School and the de-acquisition of the Pennsylvania property that currently houses Eastern High School. The proposal that was put before the board would move Eastern High School from Pennsylvania to the current Pattengill building, and then move the Pattengill Middle School over to a K-8 building on the current Fairview site and renovate that. It also calls for renovations at a number of our schools including Sexton and Everett. 

Is the two high school plan in Lansing still on the table? 

We are still deliberating on that. The bond committee thought that three was the way to go and it fits with the Pathway Promise…that’s driving these changes. The board has had some discussion about the possibility of going down to two high schools. It’s not off the table yet. I wouldn’t say it’s a certainty and I wouldn’t say this Pathway Promise is a certainty. But what is certain is we have a timeline in front of us that the board will have to take a look at to get a bond proposal on the ballot for May of 2016.