How school administrators can benefit from contracting student bus transportation

Contracting allows districts to focus on educating students instead of transportation logistics

Why is contracting a beneficial option for school districts and communities?

Contracting allows education professionals to focus on their core responsibility, which is educating young people, not running a complicated logistics operation. Every day contractors safely and efficiently transport millions of children to and from school—it’s their core mission and focus and they are good at it. Many school districts simply don’t have the talent, experience, or interest to run what is a very complex operation. In addition, it is becoming increasingly harder to manage the changing demands of a modern transportation system—it requires understanding of technology, environmental and safety regulations, and a very difficult labor market.

Are there cost benefits associated with contracting?

Transportation contractors can typically provide services at less cost to the school district than they can do themselves, while providing a safer and more efficient operation. A contractor’s cost structure for things like fleet, technology, insurance, and parts are better than that of an individual district, so they can pass along those savings to the customer. On top of service cost savings, districts can also avoid large capital costs for purchasing buses and other equipment, as well as the significant costs of maintaining the fleet. From an operational perspective, contractors are continually motivated to improve service delivery and to invest in technology, customer service, and the recruiting and training of personnel in order to stay market competitive. School districts receive the benefit of all that investment.

What is the biggest misconception about contracting that school districts have?

There are generally two big misconceptions about contracting. The first is that once you decide to contract to a third party, you can’t go back to being a self-operated district.That’s simply not true, and in fact, we are helping educate school districts on how to write a proper request for proposal (RFP) and contract language that gives them the right to take back an operation if they choose to do so. The second misconception about contracting is that all current district personnel will lose their jobs. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Most contractors, and certainly First Student, try to retain every single district employee, subject to them passing background checks and drug screens. We value the drivers’ local knowledge of the community, the relationships they have with the children on their bus and their families, and their commitment to the local communities we serve.

How do you tell the difference between a good contractor and a great school bus transportation contractor?

I think it all starts with how well the contractor communicates with the district. When we survey our customers, one of the most significant differences we find between a good-run operation and a great one is the amount of time and effort spent communicating on a daily and weekly basis. Regular communication among administrators, board members, principals and parents is a sign that the contractor is a true partner, willing to be transparent about its operations and the inevitable daily challenges of the operation. Ultimately, a great contractor will be willing to be measured against key performance indicators.

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