The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Niskayuna, and Scotia-Glenville school districts have established a partnership to provide shared student transportation to out-of-district locations, which will result in cost savings beginning in September. The three districts are continuing to study possibilities for greater efficiencies and cost sharing down the road.
A key partner in the agreement is the Albany-based Center for Disability Services, which operates a sizable transportation division of its own, and is providing management support and expertise in the effort.
District leaders and transportation officials from all three districts began meeting late in the spring to explore the possibility of coordinating some transportation services and sharing costs. Part of the impetus for the group’s work was the recent passage of a state law requiring each school district to establish a “Government Efficiency Plan” by June 1 of next year.
The Scotia-Glenville and Niskayuna Boards of Education approved the shared services agreement at their respective meetings on Monday, August 11, and Tuesday, August 12. The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Board is expected to act on the agreement on August 19.
For the 2014-15 school year, the districts have agreed to share transportation to four out-of-district locations to which at least two of the partners are already transporting students, including special education placements, parochial schools, and the Albany campus of the BOCES Career & Technical Education school. This eliminates the repetition of neighboring districts performing the same bus runs with partially filled buses and results in an overall reduction of transportation costs (maintenance, vehicle wear and tear, fuel, depreciation, etc.). Total estimated savings from all of the routes is $220,000.
The out-of-district routes were an ideal first step because districts are relatively close geographically compared to the out-of-district locations.
A prime example is the morning, mid-day, and afternoon
transportation that will bring more than 70 students from the
three districts to the BOCES Career & Technical Education (CTE)
center in Albany. Previously, each school made trips out and
back to the center for the morning or afternoon sessions, or
both. Under the agreement, students from the schools will travel
together, with their high schools serving as centralized
drop-off and pick-up locations. For example, the Burnt
Hills-Ballston Lake bus travels right by Niskayuna High School
in the afternoon; This year, it will be dropping the Niskayuna
students who attend the CTE school there instead of Niskayuna
making a separate run with its own bus.
Savings from the shared runs will help the districts meet the requirements of the Government Efficiency Plan law. The savings each district will realize will depend on several factors, including the runs that they participate in and their transportation cost structure.
The districts have also begun exploring the possibility for efficiencies and cost savings in other areas, such as cooperative driver training, purchasing of items like fuel and parts, vehicle maintenance, and other overhead costs.
“We are very pleased to announce this partnership, which has its roots in a shared commitment to providing students and families with essential transportation services in safe and reliable manner,” Niskayuna Interim Superintendent John Yagielski said. “I expect that our work will continue to evolve, and the possibilities are exciting. Yet, by beginning with the out-of-district routes, we have identified a strong starting point for gaining valuable experience in a formal collaboration of this nature.”
Although some students will now be riding on a bus that is not operated by their district, their parents will continue to direct all questions and concerns to the transportation director of their own district. The districts have developed communications and incident response protocols.
Each district’s bus drivers are certified by the state and have completed all required training. All of their buses undergo state safety inspections, and each district has a strong record in this area.
We are very pleased to be partnering with our neighbors, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Niskayuna,” said Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz. “This is just one of what I hope becomes many examples of our school districts working together to save our taxpayers money while strengthening our common bonds for the future.”
In addition to forging their own shared service agreement, the districts also jointly contracted with the Center for Disability Services for management support for the shared routes and the longer-term effort to explore more ways to share costs.
The nonprofit Center for Disability Services operates a fleet of 66 buses that provides the people it serves with transportation to schools, job sites and training programs, and service providers and physicians across the region. District students will not be traveling on Center for Disability Service’s buses; rather the organization is providing them with expertise and management, primarily through its Transportation Director William Garrison.
The districts are sharing the overall $63,800 cost of Garrison’s services on the basis of their enrollments, with Niskayuna contribution $26,400, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake contribution $20,600, and $16,700 contributed by Scotia Glenville.
For each district, this expense will be more than offset by the savings from the shared routes.
“This is an encouraging first step for school districts that have been seeking the benefits of shared services without major disruptions to parents, students and staff,” says BH-BL Superintendent Patrick McGrath Jr. “We are excited to be working with our neighbors and are looking forward to other shared-service opportunities and cost savings in the future.”