Upcoming Referendum Determines Fate of Dallas County School Buses

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The leaders of the Dallas County Schools bus system have taken action to correct various problems and greatly enhance the organization’s performance. They report that driver citations recently fell by roughly 84 percent. Nonetheless, this agency’s future remains uncertain as a referendum approaches. Voters must determine if they want to keep DCS or disband it.

Several months ago, the Lone Star State’s legislature decided to create this ballot measure. It gives people the option to shut down the bus system and tell school districts to handle transportation on their own. Dallas County Schools and its backers argue that the organization has made major improvements. They also promote DCS as the most cost-effective way to transport students.

Dallas County Schools supplies an assortment of services, but it primarily runs bus systems for schools throughout the region. A small property tax provides funding for it. County residents pay 10 cents on every $1,000 worth of real estate that they own. For example, a homeowner with a $200,000 house will pay $20 to fund the agency in 2017.

How it Works

Locals may begin casting early votes on October 23 or wait until Election Day. They can vote “yes” to retain DCS or “no” to shut it down. A municipal bond proposal also appears on the ballot; it might affect voter turnout on November 7. This ballot measure has generated less controversy than the Dallas County Schools referendum.

Ongoing Debate

Both supporters and opponents of the agency have made public statements in an effort to sway voters’ opinions. The DCS board’s president said that the bus system’s problems were created by previous officials who have departed the organization. A Dallas County Schools trustee highlighted the tremendous progress achieved in the agency’s “complete overhaul.”

The bus system’s detractors believe that voters should eliminate the organization because of its past. Well-known DCS foes include local school district officials in Dallas. They don’t want to give the agency a chance to improve. Nevertheless, opponents acknowledge that shutting down and replacing the service is a complex and difficult objective.

Some DCS officials accuse the city’s school district of having ulterior motives when it campaigns for the agency’s closure. They explain that most of the organization’s assets will go to Dallas ISD if people vote against the ballot measure. For instance, it would receive school buses valued at more than $68 million. The district might also acquire buildings and communications equipment.

Financial Impact

Bus system officials warn that some citizens have overlooked the massive cost of eliminating this organization. Many school districts will need to begin using commercial contractors if the agency closes. These businesses have submitted bids that consistently exceed the cost of DCS services. Private transportation providers would probably charge Dallas County school districts over $40 million more than they presently pay.

Local schools could also choose to operate their own bus systems. However, they would need to spend considerable amounts of money on auto insurance, maintenance and employee wages. Dallas ISD’s superintendent reports that the district has yet to fully analyze the relevant expenses. Vehicles cost more than other equipment and services; a single new bus sells for approximately $100,000.

Potential Consequences

Dallas County Schools will remain in place for 12 months if voters decide to shut it down. Officials would establish a special committee by mid-November. Its members may allocate some of the agency’s assets to each school district that DCS serves. This could become a rather complicated process. The organization owns more than 600 buses and leases nearly 900 vehicles.

Local property owners wouldn’t stop paying the DCS tax. County authorities must keep collecting it until officials can settle all of the agency’s debts. Residents might continue paying it for years even as schools demand higher tax rates because they need to use private transportation companies or run their own bus systems.

One DCS trustee warned that the aftermath of a “no” vote could trigger serious problems. Districts might not have the ability to obtain sufficient buses and drivers before the agency shuts down. The superintendent of Dallas ISD has been cooperating with other school districts to prepare for the possible elimination of DCS, but he acknowledges that it could be challenging to hire enough dispatchers, drivers and repair personnel.

Pro-DCS Campaign

Numerous voters remain uninformed about this important issue. Some people don’t understand that many of the county’s school districts let a separate agency transport their students. The organization’s representatives intend to educate county residents about DCS and its benefits. They will also hold meetings with local elected officials. Board member Renato de los Santos has urged Dallas voters to back DCS as well as the municipal bond proposal.

Additionally, agency officials plan to inform locals about the organization’s financial status. They assure Texans that bankruptcy is not a concern for DCS. The bus system has successfully paid all outstanding bills. If voters decide to keep the agency in place, there’s a high probability that lending institutions will allow DCS to restructure its debts. This would improve its financial situation in the long run.

About DCS

More than 170 years ago, Dallas County Schools began supplying various services to educators in northeastern Texas. Today, it provides transportation for over 70,000 students. The agency also employs resource officers and crossing guards. School districts can obtain workers’ compensation coverage from DCS as well.

This organization serves numerous private and public schools. It transports students for nine districts, including Highland Park, Lancaster, Cedar Hill and Irving. The agency uses a variety of methods to recruit bus drivers. It organizes job fairs, buys print ads and advertises on local radio stations. Texas Workforce Solutions also helps it find qualified drivers.

The majority of Dallas County school districts want to continue using DCS services. This agency reduces their transportation expenses by at least half and reliably serves students throughout the year. Nineteen out of every 20 buses arrive on time. The organization has also made significant personnel and policy changes to ensure that prior mistakes will not be repeated.

Follow the full story at Dallas News or learn more about DCS: http://www.dcschools.com/faq/

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