By Christopher Smith
The discussion by Murray County Schools officials about possibly outsourcing part of their school bus duties has been shelved for the time being, said several school officials.
Officials were considering handing over management of most drivers to a private company, while retaining ownership and management of the bus fleet. Drivers who had worked for the school system for 10 or more years would have been kept on the school payroll, while those with less service would have been given at least a one-year contract with the new company.
Those terms might have turned some companies off, said Danny Dunn, director of human resources for the school system.
“We were told this might happen by other school systems,” he said. “We were told we would be lucky to even get one bid without privatizing the whole thing, but we wanted to try. ... We didn’t get any bids we could work with so we’ve notified the bus drivers that we are no longer considering outsourcing at this time.”
A request for proposal (RFP) was posted online (murray.k12.ga.us) on March 5 asking “qualified companies to provide school transportation services” to help relieve the school system’s cash-strapped budget. Dunn said school officials were hoping to save on health care and insurance costs he believes will go up $150 every year for the immediate future for each of the 68 drivers and 10 bus monitors.
Benefits for bus staff were more than $700,000 this school year, said Dunn. That included for health insurance, life insurance, a 403(b) retirement plan that acts similarly to a 401(k), Social Security and worker’s compensation. Another $700,000 went toward salaries, while $1 million was spent for fuel and bus upkeep, among a myriad of other maintenance.
The companies First Student, Durham School Services and Student Transportation of America responded to the RFP, but only First Student agreed to the contract terms. Dunn said outsourcing to First Student would have added $159,000 to the $2.4 million the school system already pays yearly for transportation.
If school administrators had found savings in the bid it would have gone to school board members for a vote at their May 13 meeting.
“The results of the bids were not productive at all,” said school board member Frank Adams. “I thought the whole thing was farfetched anyways. The other two companies didn’t like that the school was going to keep some of the drivers on (the school system’s) payroll. They wanted all the drivers.”
Dunn said he couldn’t confirm that.
“What the school board was told is that when a transportation contractor comes in they usually want the entire department,” he said. “I don’t think it was specifically just drivers they wanted. I think it was the totality of the bus line.”
Board member Jackie Rodgers, who was on an information gathering committee related to the RFP, said the bids were never “presented to the board because it just wasn’t cost-efficient.”
“The high price of the bid was not acceptable,” Adams said. “It was higher. That’s my understanding.”
Asked if the RFP could be retooled to include all transportation services, Dunn, Rodgers and Adams said that isn’t likely in the near future.
“This was not our first time looking at privatizing,” Dunn said. “We did look at outsourcing the whole thing six or seven years ago and we got several bids back then.
“We could have saved some money back then, but that was before we were in this economic crisis (that begin in 2008). We didn’t save enough back then to justify moving forward. I’m not going to say there won’t be (a future RFP) at some time, but I don’t think we’re going to be looking at that any time soon.”