The Office of the Legislative Auditor reported Tuesday that some school districts fail to provide oversight of private transportation contractors.
The report, required by the 2007 Legislature, shows school districts may benefit from hiring private transportation companies if the contracts are openly bid and well supervised. The report shows such practices are far from standard in some districts.
Private contractors provide about 59 percent of the student transportation miles driven in 2006, the OLA reported. Additionally, 154 of the state’s 340 districts used contractors for at least half of their transportation in 2006. The report shows in-house transportation services can even save school districts more money.
Of those districts that contract for bus services, the OLA found most requested proposals from several contractors within the last four years. However, some districts have never requested proposals from contractors, and others were not sure when their contracts were last opened.
One district has used the same contractor since the 1970s and has never opened its contract for bids or quotations. Another district has never solicited proposals for its special education transportation contract, saying a neighboring district uses the same contractor and believes it is a good company.
Transportation contracts differ between districts. The OLA found one district with a nearly 200-page contract with detailed specifications, another district had no written contract a third had a one-page contract that only contained payment rates.
Districts have oversight responsibilities regarding drivers: They must annually obtain a list of the drivers, verify the validity of their drivers’ licenses, and review a summary of the contractors’ substance abuse test results. The OLA found many districts did not perform these oversight tasks. For example, one superintendent said he had “no clue” about the background of his contractor’s bus drivers; another said part of why the district contracts for transportation is to have one less thing to worry about.
Some districts did not verify or review random drug and alcohol tests on private contractors’ drivers.
Few districts monitor the age or condition of their contractors’ vehicles. Very few established maximum mileage amounts for their contractors’ buses.
DPS school bus inspection information is not publicly available, so districts must rely on contractors to notify them of any problems. As a result, if school districts do not receive the report from their contractor, they do not know if the contractor has had problems in its DPS inspections.
The findings are similar to those raised by Service Employees International Union Local 284. The union has written a white paper about public versus private school transportation which was given to legislators Tuesday at the same time as the OLA report.
SEIU research found most districts realize significant cost decreases when creating in-house fleets as opposed to hiring private transportation contractors. Further, bus drivers working for Minneapolis Public Schools had an average of 10.5 years of experience, while the average for private contractors operating in Minneapolis was 3.7 years.
The OLA report found that districts private contractors provided about 59 percent of the student transportation miles driven in 2005. In addition, 154 of the roughly 340 districts in the state used private contractors for at least half of their transportation. Since 1996, more than 61 percent of metro and large outstate districts used contractors to provide at least half of their student transportation; less than 47 percent of smaller outstate districts used private contractors.
There were 625 school bus crashes in 2006. Between 2000 and 2006, there was an average of 3.6 fatalities each year related to school bus crashes. In 2006, there was one fatality attributed to a school bus crash; in 2005, seven fatalities were attributed to school bus crashes, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Driver error contributed to about one-third of bus crashes, while vehicle malfunction contributed to about 2 percent of crashes. The other driver’s error or vehicle malfunctions are more than half of the contributing factors in bus crashes. Other factors, such as poor weather conditions, contributed to about 11 percent of the contributing factors, the OLA found.