Study Recommends Changes for MN School Transportation

Posted at: 01/30/2013 9:45 PM
Updated at: 01/31/2013 10:59 AM
By: Steve Tellier

It could change the way your child gets to and from school every day.

A new study recommends that Minnesota schools make big changes to the way it buses students, changes that could save districts a lot of cash, but also keep kids on buses longer.

During the 2010-2011 school year, Minnesota schools transported more than 560,000 students at a cost of nearly $250 million. So how can districts bring that number down and save taxpayers money?

"We, as a state, need to help come up with ways to encourage collaboration across districts," said Matthew Bailey, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Administration.

Bailey helped oversee the study. It was released earlier this month, and recommends sweeping changes, including asking districts to consolidate routes, make those routes longer, install GPS on buses, use "neighborhood hubs," and even change the times that classes start and end.

"I think there are opportunities to think about it more regionally so that it's not specific to each and every district," Bailey said.

Districts should also share transportation staff, contractors, and maintenance. In short, school transportation systems would look a little more like public transportation systems.

"You have to say, 'What's best for kids? And how can you save money at the same time?'" said Keith Lester, the superintendent of Brooklyn Center Community Schools.

Lester said his district is already collaborating with other districts on some fronts. But without hard numbers to look at, he's hesitant about pursuing more.

"A while back, this cooperative thing actually cost us more than when we did it ourselves," Lester said. "So we're for it, but we're also very careful about before we jump in and get ourselves in trouble."

He's also worried about the potential for longer bus rides. And he's not alone.

"Yes, really, it does," said Nickola Zhou, a parent, when asked whether a longer bus ride for her children would bother her.

That study was passed on to the chairs of the House and Senate education committees. Even the study admits that such sweeping changes are going to take time and more than a little political will to implement.