An audit of the North Kingstown School Department’s transportation services may yield almost a quarter-million dollars in savings for the district with its recommendation. This Tuesday, the North Kingstown School Committee looked at an audit from TransPar Group, which looked at bus routes, efficiency and cost analysis.
The report made three major recommendation – reducing one full-size bus from regular rotation, reduce runs for students attending private schools Monsignor Clarke and The Prout School from two buses to one, and consolidating minibus runs. In total, these recommendations could save the district up to $242,400.
NK’s student transportation services are split into two categories: 21 full-size contracted buses (providing bus service to NK schools, Monsignor Clarke and Prout School) and 15 district-owned, mini-buses (providing NK’s special needs, private school and out-of-district students at 15 schools throughout Rhode Island).
According to the audit, NK’s contracted buses cost $409 per bus per day to operate, totaling $1,546,000 per year. On the minibus side, it each bus each day costs $529 to run for a total cost of $1,429,295. In all, North Kingstown schools spend $2.9 million on the transportations of its students.
Using data collected from many Rhode Island school districts in 2009, TransPar found that NKSD has higher transportation costs per student. Part of the reason behind this is the inclusion of bus monitors on all regular education bus routes along with the district’s pay packages.
The cost disparity between contracted and minibuses is caused in large part by the fact that district buses have paraprofessionals while contracted buses have monitors. NKSD’s pay and benefits programs are more costly, the report states. Minibus drivers are paid an average of $102.17 per day (assuming an eight-hour day), paraprofessionals are paid an average of $86.64 per day (average hourly rate of $15.95) and monitors are paid between $8,50 and $9.50 per hour (averaging four hours per day).
“It appears that the culmination of paying the drivers for an eight hour day, plus the benefit package causes the District’s bus operating costs to well exceed that of the contractor,” states the report.
TransPar suggested the school district look into reducing its transportation costs to get them in line with contractors’ costs. If that is not possible, TransPar suggests NK turn to contracting for all of its transportation services. According to NKSD Business Director Mary King, many school districts have already outsourced these services to the state.
Another recommendation was to improve the efficiency of bus routes. Currently, NK’s contracted buses are utilized 66 percent of the time with only 54 percent of the seats being filled. The “ultimate performance standard” is to utilize 80 percent of the seats 80 percent of the time. TransPar suggested reducing buses from 19 to fewer than 18, cutting two from North Kingstown High School and one run from Davisville Middle, SMH-Quidnessett Elementary and Forest Park Elementary schools, potentially saving the district $73,600 per year.
Optimizing the bus service to Msgr. Clarke and Prout was a hot topic of discussion for the North Kingstown School Committee Tuesday night. Two buses transport students to each school, with an average of 13 and 14 riders. The report suggests consolidating the two buses into one, as the schools are only two miles apart from each other, saving the district $73,600.
Though a good idea in theory, North Kingstown School Department Transportation Coordinator John Horan told the committee that its application could pose more problems for the district.
“If we were to combine the buses into one route, my best estimate is that the last kid would not be getting dropped off until 5:15 or 5:30 p.m.,” said Horan, as the bus route would range from Saunderstown to Forge Road, practically in East Greenwich.
School Committee Member Larry Ceresi suggested creating a central drop-off spot at the high school for these students to minimize the length of these runs. By state law, the school district is required to provide transportation services to North Kingstown students to their respective schools.
“The layout of this town is very difficult, more difficult than I think people realize,” said Ceresi. “There’s got to be a little give and take. If you want your child picked up at your door and want them back at a certain time, there has to be a little give and take.”
NKSD nabbed commendations for its efficient four-tiered bell schedule that allows for buses to run more efficiently, allowing time between start times of each school. TransPar did, however, suggest adding five to 10 minutes for the middle school buses to complete their runs in the afternoon, freeing up one or two buses.