The following is the text of a report of a transportation study done by the Education Services Center of Cuyahoga County. Public Performance Partners provided project management services for this study which demonstrated areas of potential savings for the affected school districts. What follows is the beginning of the report in text form, with a link to the full report at the end of this post.
Educational Services Center of Cuyahoga County
Transportation Services Report
This report documents findings and recommendations following a first quarter 2014 study of pupil transportation services within Cuyahoga County Ohio. The purpose of the study is to examine and identify worthwhile avenues by which school leaders in collaboration with the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County (ESCCC) can leverage existing assets to increase stakeholder returns while maintaining existing service levels. ESCCC staff Jennifer Dodd, Director of Operations and Wayne Gibson, Directed of Gifted Projects with support from Larry Lerch, Transportation Supervisor, Orange City Schools, Pepper Pike, Ohio, Hugh Quill, President of Public Performance Partners, Columbus, Ohio and Steven Abel, Transportation Consultant, Steven P. Abel, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio conducted the study.
Shared service opportunities follow two savings themes, mileage reductions through route sharing and overhead reductions through asset sharing. Study data examines these themes as well as savings opportunities surrounding volume purchases and procurement standardization.
Following this approach, the study began during the fourth quarter of 2013 with an information request sent to thirty-one Cuyahoga County school districts. Information inquiries focused largely on fleet requirements, support mechanisms and budgetary information. Returns from nineteen respondents lead to a master information spreadsheet for comparison and analysis purposes. Pertinent survey information appears in table, chart and graph form at the end of this report.
The report begins with an executive summary that presents the reader with a brief overview of study findings and actionable recommendations. A transportation profile follows to acquaint the reader with existing services, delivery methods and pupil transportation budgets within Cuyahoga County. The main body of the report consists of eight subject areas; each subject is evaluated via the following four-part format:
- National Guidelines – Brief descriptions of shared service, collaborative and outsourcing practices found in pupil transportation,
- Cuyahoga County Findings – Presentation of survey results in written and graph form,
- Savings Opportunities – Narratives that compare and contrast guideline standards with operational findings to yield one or more methods to reduce transportation expenses, and
- Recommendations – Optimized saving opportunity suggestions supported by survey data, concept models and industry best practices.
The delivery of pupil transportation services within Cuyahoga County utilizes an inward looking approach in which board’s self-operate public, non-public, extracurricular, sports and, to varying levels, special education transportation. This study finds both opportunities and compromises in this particular methodology:
Opportunities – Boards retain high levels of control managing and directing day-to-day operations, strong capabilities to maintain buses as well as support vehicles via extensive physical plant infrastructures and powers to employ local residents (voters) that receive negotiated wages and benefit packages that generally exceed like private sector positions, and
Compromises – Focus and value fall off when boards manage bus fleets and support garages, trade countywide purchasing power for single-district discounts and overlook breaks from municipal fueling resources and special education transportation suppliers.
Analysis reveals instances of system stress as average school bus and support equipment age exceed service life mid-point, replacement bus purchases fall behind industry best practices, garage capacity exceeds demand, maintenance missions remain both broad and costly, boards continue to assume risks storing fuels on-campus and routing software choices speak more to preference than standardization.
Reversing these conditions at the district level, in addition to being cost prohibitive, disrupts administrative assignments, needlessly duplicates rebuilding tasks, undermines service continuity and fails to capitalize upon Cuyahoga County’s thirty-one district purchasing capabilities. In contrast, collaborative strategies, utilizing single-source procedures for the benefit of multiple districts, hold great promise by shouldering research costs, aligning efforts across multiple users, and maximizing available school, municipal and government resources.
Cuyahoga County, located along Lake Erie in northeast Ohio, consists of thirty-one school districts that transport over fifty-one thousand regular education students and more than six thousand special education students to local and remote learning centers situated in a largely metropolitan environment of 704 square miles around Cleveland. Currently all thirty-one school districts self-operate over one-thousand yellow buses for public, non-public transportation and special education assignments. A number of districts outsource some special education transportation assignments to contract transportation suppliers.
Ohio Department of Education records for 2012 indicate that Cuyahoga County districts on average meet only 71.2% of targeted ridership ratio lagging behind comparable metropolitan districts of Franklin County (Columbus) at 92.4% and Hamilton County (Cincinnati) at 82.8%. This ranking speaks to Ohio Department of Education (ODE) efficiency expectations that influence state reimbursement levels. Regular home-to-school transportation cost Cuyahoga County’s districts $55M in 2012, special education transportation cost $39M for the same period.
Regular education transportation costs in Cuyahoga County range between $433 and $2270 per student. Nationally, per student benchmarks fluctuate between $700 and $800. Using this benchmark as an acceptable measurement, ODE records indicate that twenty-six percent (26%) of Cuyahoga’s districts remain equal to or less than standard and seventy-four percent (74%) exceed standard. Special education transportation costs, often difficult to compare due to unique operating requirements, are generally at or above expectation.
Historically Cuyahoga County districts look to inward looking (self-operated) approaches instead of outward looking tactics (shared service, outsourcing or collaborations) to improve performance levels and control expenses. This condition may stem from board preferences for self-operated solutions that dovetail with control concerns and community biases. It may also speak to Board perceptions of already low transportation costs that do not need fixing and therefore do not require board attention.