ESD 112's transportation cooperative staff comprises a total of 62 employees. Pictured in the back row are Director Patrick Bonin, student intern Torre Jones and mechanic Allen Van Every. In the front are dispatcher Kathy Steinbarge, driver trainer Ingrid Goffic and accountant Ti'a Kanekoa.
The mid 1980s marked a period of change for school bus transportation in Washington state. Revisions to laws allowed educational service districts to offer certain transportation services to schools and school districts on the basis of membership assessments and a fee for capital expenditure development.
Moreover, a lot of school districts were not in compliance with federal regulations related to special-needs transportation, according to Gary Thomsen, transportation manager for Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Wash.
"Parents and activist groups were starting to realize their rights and were demanding equal transportation for their special-needs youngsters," Thomsen says.
The formation in September 1984 of Educational Service District (ESD) 112's Specialized Transportation Cooperative in Vancouver fit the bill for the type of service parents were looking for.
Thomsen helped form the cooperative (he also worked for it for two years and currently serves on its advisory board). He set up its bylaws, identified school districts that were not in compliance with federal regulations and informed them of the services that the cooperative offered.
Today, it has 23 member districts and serves 161 schools. Its drivers transport an average of 300 special-needs students per month on 41 routes.
Controlling growth and spending
Within the last several years, the number of students that the operation transports, particularly homeless students, has grown substantially. Director Patrick Bonin says this has presented a challenge because the state does not fully fund the operation's transportation costs.
"If there are additional expenditures as we grow, we have to bill that expense to the district based on the number of students we serve. The districts don't like getting that bill, so we're really careful about our growth and living within our budget," he says.
To control its growth, the cooperative has critically defined what its role is. It only provides high-cost/low-incidence service to special-needs students. It also utilizes BusBoss routing software, which Bonin says has saved in fuel, labor and vehicle costs.