Report: Privatizing School Buses Brings Fatter Bills for Taxpayers
Publice News Service
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Close to three out of four school districts in Pennsylvania hire companies to run their bus service, and a new report says it's a decision that usually costs more than if districts ran their own buses. Stephen Herzenberg is an author of the report and an economist at the Keystone Research Center. He says privatization gives districts a cash infusion when they sell their bus fleet, but it's important to remember that school-bus companies are in it for the money.l
"They have to cover the cost of higher executive and managerial salaries. And once a contractor is in place, if a school district has sold its buses, it can't easily go back into the business of bussing its own students."
Another reason why so many districts in Pennsylvania hire private school-bus companies is because the state makes it attractive to do so, Herzenberg says.
"Subsidies the state provides are more generous if a district contracts out than if it provides its own bus service. We did the numbers for one particular district and it was 9 percent more generous."
Herzenberg says the road to a better system holds several possible avenues to explore, including eliminating the subsidy gap when a district self-provides and offering low-interest loans to help districts buy their own school bus fleets.
"A lot of districts will continue to contract out, so that's where you need to provide technical assistance to make sure that districts are getting a good deal, using the most efficient and reliable contractors."
The report estimates that if the average-size school district in Pennsylvania, with average student enrollment, operated school-bus service in-house, it would save $223,000 per year per district, compared to contracting out. The total savings if all districts eliminated their current contracting would be $78 million statewide. The Pennsylvania School Bus Association says its 400 members provide programs, education and services to transport students as safely as possible.