Eliminating Buses Won’t Save $2.5 Million a Year

Superintendent Andy Craig told the Hoover Board of Education that eliminating buses for students will save $2.5 million each year. He said eliminating buses would allow that $2.5 million to be redirected to the classroom to preserve educational quality.

Eliminating buses won’t save $2.5 million a year.

The FY13 (“fiscal year 2013”, the period from October 1, 2012, to September 30, 2013) budget was the first time that local funding for student transportation topped $2 million. Ever.

No school official has given any good reason, backed up with numbers and a clear explanation, as to why so much local money is spent on transportation. Other nearby school districts have many more buses and manage to run them without the strain on local funds while maintaining high student achievement.

No hard numbers have been produced showing actual cost savings from eliminating buses.

No one has attempted to prove that savings will approach anywhere near $2.5 million.

At the October 21, 2013, a parent asked Superintendent Andy Craig how much it will cost to transport only children with special needs. Because the cost of actual transportation for children with special needs (nearly $600,000 for bus aides alone, which is paid from local funds), will remain after student transportation for others is eliminated.

Here’s how he responded:

“Not off the top of my head,” Craig said.

Eliminating Buses Won't Save $2.5 Million

[Click the graphic to view it larger and share it via Facebook.]

That $600,000 needed for bus aides, paid with local funds, reduces the Board’s projected $2.5 million savings by nearly 25%. 

And in this year’s budget only $1.9 million of local funds is budgeted for transportation.

So keeping $600,000 in local money in the budget for special education transportation, that leaves $1.3 million in savings if buses are eliminated.

And are there other locally funded costs that won’t be eliminated even if buses stop running for all but those in special education? Yes.

If you break apart what portions of transportation costs are funded by the state, which portions are funded by local money, and which portions are likely to remain after eliminating buses, local funding will still be used to fund approximately $416,000 of transportation expenditures.

So that knocks savings down to about $850,000, or half of one percent (0.5%) of the $167 million budget passed by the Board of Education in September. 

And $850,000 is a long way from the promised $2.5 million.

To be clear, $850,000 in savings is a generous estimate. If you begin to tally the additional costs of (1) the traffic study, (2) the infrastructure and campus improvements that will need to be made to accommodate additional cars and (3) the additional cost to staff schools earlier and later to allow for early drop-off or late pick-up, any initial savings will disappear before the buses are even gone.

Why did we attempt these calculations? Because no school official has conducted or produced any actual cost savings analyses. Craig wouldn’t even tell attendees at October’s board meeting how much the traffic study would cost. When asked how much the traffic study would cost, Craig said, “No bills have been paid.” Why is Craig so evasive?

These Hoover school leaders have given plenty of cause to question promised “savings”.

The promise of $1.2 million per year in energy savings resulting from an $827,000 upgrade of energy controls in late 2009 was reduced to $300,000 per year by the following Board meeting. And results have shown that actual savings have only amount to a little more than $500,000 over the three years since the controls were installed ($363K, $164K, $18K for FY11, FY12, and FY13, respectively).

Until the Hoover Board of Education releases hard numbers with all factors considered, these are the best numbers available.

One more thing: this year, principal payments began on Hoover City Schools’ long-term debt (after three years of interest-only payments). That amount? $2.8 million.  Even if buses had been eliminated this year, the $2.5 million officials claim would be put into the classroom was already spent on repaying long-term debt.