The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Bus purchase vote now necessary for Dist. U-46
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 will be voting on a $3.1 million proposal at its upcoming meeting on Monday, April 23, but it’s an expenditure that likely would not have been needed if a different decision were taken by the board last year. The item was presented on Monday, April 9.
The proposal is for the purchase of 42 used, previously leased, buses with Midwest Transit Equipment, Inc. and it will come out of the transportation fund if approved.
According to the proposal, the purchase is “in accordance with the 2018 Age and Obsolescence Plan” which was presented to the board on March 19.
“The buses are being purchased to replace buses that have met the requirement for replacement as outlined in the Age and Obsolescence Plan. These buses will replace buses that are being traded in. This purchase will not add any additional buses to the fleet,” the proposal states.
Board member Jeanette Ward noted that this purchase would have been unnecessary had the district moved forward on an outsourcing plan of part of the transportation to First Student early last year.
“I’d like to point out the significant savings we could have realized if we had done that at that time,” Ward said.
Board members Sue Kerr and Donna Smith, the board’s president, disagreed and contradicted the administration’s responses to Ward’s questions prior to the meeting.
“But I wonder if we wouldn’t have to purchase some because we were only outsourcing special (education), so…,” Kerr said.
“Yeah… it was only a portion we were looking at,” Smith said.
However, a memo to the board prior to the meeting showed Ward was correct.
Ward asked: “If we had decided to outsource busing with First Student, who would have owned the buses?”
The administration responded: “We would not have purchased them.”
Ward also asked: “Would it have made the periodic purchasing of buses unnecessary?”
The administration responded: “Yes.”
Board member Melissa Owen, who was not on the board when U-46 considered outsourcing with First Student, agreed with Kerr and Smith and implied the district would still need to at least lease buses, which the district would not have had to do as the buses would have been owned, operated and maintained by First Student.
“And I don’t think when that decision was made I was on the board yet, but wouldn’t there have been a cost analysis? I mean typically a lease payment is higher than what you would pay for a capital loan. The cost of the bus is wrapped up into the lease. So, one way or another you’re paying for a bus. It just depends on who you’re paying,” Owens said.
Smith said: “It costs us.”
Ward responded: “I believe that savings were about $6 million for the life of that consideration. That took that into account.”
Regarding Owens’ assertion of a “decision was made,” no public decision was ever made. All discussions of the First Student RFP with the board were done in closed session.
Former board member Cody Holt told The Examiner after losing his reelection bid that a “straw poll” was used on the First Student RFP in closed session which is ethically and legally questionable as the Illinois Open Meetings Act states its purpose is to “ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
While the First Student RFP stated $3.9 million in savings to the U-46 taxpayers over three years, Holt said those savings would have been far greater according to the administration with savings “around $8 million” with First Student likely because of the lack of needing to purchase buses which was not included in the RFP.