In spring, lawmakers passed two bills that may see the demise of the Dallas County Schools (DCS) bus agency unless voters decide to keep the agency on November 7th, the general election date.
What is DCS?
Dallas County Schools (DCS) is a county school district that offers full service or supplemental student transport services to school districts, private schools, charter schools as well as other government entities in and around Dallas County.
The agency is among the top student transportation fleets in the U.S. operating over 2,000 buses that transport over 75,000 school children to and from school safely every day. The DCS serves nine school districts namely; Aledo ISD, Cedar Hill ISD, Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD, DeSoto ISD, Dallas ISD, Irving ISD, Highland Park ISD, Lancaster ISD and Richardson ISD.
The Texas Legislature instructed an election on November 7th which gives voters the option of abolishing DCS following; concerns about DCS’s finances in regard to questionable business dealings and careless bus drivers.
Measures Taken by Dallas County Schools to Address Concerns
DCS past issues have resulted in the forced retirement of a superintendent involved in the questionable business dealings. DCS has also responded to the concerns by removing all employees involved in dubious business transactions and dealings.
The agency insists it has cleaned the house and shouldn’t be judged by its past mistakes. The agency has since appointed several new board members and a new president. Policies have also been enacted to offer better financial oversight, boost transparency, as well as strengthen ethics policies.
Since February, DCS has made significant steps to correct past mistakes as well as improve the organization. DCS has strengthened its financial position and is now up to date on all of its payments. According to the new leadership, bankruptcy is no longer a concern. Trustee, Kyle Renard states that DCS has made a complete overhaul. ”We aren’t the same organization we were before. It’s been eight months only, but we’ve made remarkable changes.”
DCS requested for an investigation early this year to get to the bottom of mismanagement concerns among other problems in the organization. Once the investigation is concluded, the new management team is confident of forging a new path. According to Board President, Gloria Levario, an external audit on DCS’s finances will be completed before the November 7th election.
Investigations aside, the new board and management has marked significant improvements in key performance areas. For instance, traffic citations have reduced significantly from 149 back in 2016 to just 20 this year. Roadway accidents have also decreased significantly by 24% in the 2016 – 2017 school year compared to the previous school year.
Repercussions of Abolishing DCS
According to DCS supporters, abolishing the agency will result in increased costs for local schools. The Texas Legislature started the $0.01 ad valorem tax, appropriate to DCS, to assist school districts reduced transport costs. If the agency is abolished, the tax will still be collected but only for purposes of paying off the DCS debt as opposed to helping offset transportation costs.
The statutes, which deduct tax money meant for providing bus transportation to students award the money to creditors leaving public school children with no tax money to cater to the significant portion of public school bus transportation costs.
According to DCS officials, DCS opponents like Dallas ISD are pushing for the agency’s closure since they would be the biggest beneficiaries, receiving most of DCS’s assets should the agency face forceful closure. However, a lot more needs to be considered by DCS opponents. For instance, school districts will be forced to seek alternative school bus transport services from private vendors. The districts currently using DCS transportation will have to spend at least $43 million yearly based on current estimates and bids.
Additionally, costs are expected to add up quickly for insurance, fuel, technology among other expenses if DISD picks up the entire service alone. Although Dallas ISD stands to inherit buses, it’s important to note that some DCS buses are still leased.
Abolishing DCS isn’t therefore as simple as some people would like to think. There is a high chance the process will turn chaotic very fast. According to DCS trustee, Kyle Renard, school districts can’t afford to have buses on short notice. DCS opponents have also admitted that they are in unchartered territory if their wishes are granted.
According to Dallas ISD Superintendent, Michael Hinojosa, there are many small intricate details that must be handled for DCS to be abolished without causing serious problems. For instance, area districts must be extremely organized to avoid being caught off guard. Districts must also get into regular talks with each other to pool resources as well as ensure all affected districts are properly represented in the dissolution committee.
What’s most important is that DCS has already made significant steps in the right direction. Trying to punish the agency with dissolution for past mistakes that have already been rectified isn’t necessary. Furthermore, it will only increase costs incurred by school districts which will, in turn, decrease the amount of money that goes to improve education. All school districts served by DCS aren’t in a position to hire as well as pay for bus transport services seamlessly from other vendors or consider other options such as forming transportation departments.
The school going children of Dallas County stand to be the biggest losers if DCS is dissolved which is why the focus should shift to improving the agency further.