Genesee Intermediate School District’s (GISD) transportation consortiums bus special-needs and career/technical-education students in 21 school districts. The district is based in Flint, Mich.
Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD), based in Flint, Mich., operates two transportation consortiums. The special-services consortium buses special-needs students, and the second consortium transports career/technical-education students to the Genesee Area Skill Center.
In 1997, GISD’s Board of Education proposed the idea as a way to reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies for special-needs transportation by unifying multiple districts. “Every district was sending out a vehicle, some with only two or three students on board,” says Gary West, former director of transportation for GISD. “Now, designated buses pick up in several different regions, each en route to the alternative learning centers.”
(West retired in December. At press time, his position had not yet been filled.)
The special-services transportation consortium provides daily door-to-door service to students from school districts in Genesee County, with services extending to select neighboring counties.
Ready to transport students from infancy until age 26, all buses are equipped with everything from car seats to safety vests. A wide spectrum of skills is expected of drivers. Therefore, they attend specialized training with classroom staff members on how to attend to the students’ emotional, physical and basic medical needs. “We consider ourselves an extension of the classroom,” West says.
Through GISD’s consortiums, participating districts have successfully eliminated more than half of the buses originally used to transport students over the past 16 years. Currently, there is a total of 113 buses on the road daily — 93 for special-needs and 20 for career/technical students.
Savings in bus purchases is a factor for school districts, as special-needs vehicles are equipped with many extra features, such as wheelchair lifts.
“It’s just a huge price factor, and we’ve reduced it tremendously,” West says.
Aside from large-scale organization, GPS has been a key factor in logistical efficiency. “We used to park our buses at 13 locations around the county, and now we’ve brought it down to five,” West says. “We select the best routes based on where our students are coming from and going to that year.”
The consortiums don’t have their own garages; rather, they contract local district garages and one private offsite contractor for maintenance assistance. “This probably saves us about $2 to $3 million,” West says.
“The cost of a garage ... it all adds up. Now we just give other garages a stipend over the actual cost so that they’re not losing any money, and it’s a win-win for all of us.”
The consortiums’ operating costs are reimbursable from the state up to 70%. Therefore, the remaining 30%, which is spread among the districts, must come from outside funding. Employees search for opportunities to apply for grants and rebates to make their program as cost-worthy as possible.
“Funding is a never-ending challenge for staff during a time of increasing demand for services and declining revenues,” says Michael Moorman, deputy superintendent for GISD.
Cumulative savings for local school districts using the consortiums is approximately $42.4 million since 1997. Budget efficiency has helped the consortiums maintain the same number of buses even though the number of students served edges upward each year.