The District 97 Board of Education announced earlier this month that busing for elementary students in the district will not be eliminated. The move, board members realized, will not save as much money as they had expected just a few weeks ago.  

The decision likely brought relief to the dozens of D97 families who expressed frustration and alarm after learning that the district was even considering eliminating buses for all but middle school and special education students, or perhaps making families pay for the transportation service. 

Many of those frustrated parents and guardians packed a regular meeting on April 10 to lambast the process by which the board had made the proposal to cut bus services, with some complaining that the district was overemphasizing cost savings at the expense of students and families

“You come asking us for money in referenda and tell us if you don’t do this you’re going to lose services and then there’s this threat of services [being cut],” said Sean Flynn, a D97 parent and member of the district’s community engagement committee. 

Flynn referenced two referenda that passed last April that allowed the district to raise $57.5 million in new revenue for capital expenses and $13.3 million for operating expenses. Before the vote, district officials said significant cuts would be required if the referenda didn’t pass. 

During a regular school board meeting in March, D97 officials considered a series of bus transportation options that could result in more than $200,000 a year in cost savings, according to a report by Edulog Consulting, an education transportation consulting firm selected by the district to conduct a transportation audit.

The district has spent $2 million over the last four years on regular bus service, with the cost of the service increasing by 30 percent from 2017 to 2018 — when the district paid $522,386. Edulog estimated that those costs could be cut in half if the district eliminated bus service for the 535 elementary school students who currently receive it as the result of living next to 14 hazardous crossings throughout Oak Park, which were designated in 1997. 

According to the Edulog report, those crossings have since been retrofitted with signal lights and clearly marked pedestrian walkways, and should no longer be considered hazardous. The report also listed other options for saving transportation costs, including adjusting bell times and changing middle-school boundaries. 

At the April 10 meeting, parents pushed back against Edulog’s recommendations, with many saying that the company didn’t consult with them about their children’s routes to school. 

In a statement released last week, D97 officials said the “board and administration do not agree with or support” the recommendation to change boundaries. And in a statement released by D97 on April 16, officials said that after “performing a thorough analysis” of three transportation bids the board received for the 2018-19 school year, “we determined that none of them would result in savings for the district. Therefore, we will not be eliminating elementary busing for the 2018-19 school year.” 

District officials said in the April 16 statement that their “primary bid was for maintaining our current level of transportation service, while the alternatives included options we thought might generate savings for the district, including eliminating elementary school busing and restructuring middle school busing as a shuttle system.” 

Two companies submitted bids for next year — North American and the district’s current bus service provider, Lakeview. 

When the district presented the transportation alternatives to Lakeview, the company bid higher than it did on existing services, D97 officials said. North American did not bid on the alternatives.

North American’s bid for in-district transportation costs for the 2018-19 school year was $724,712 while Lakeview’s bid for those services next year was $811,008. 

“Between now and April 24,” the district’s statement noted, the assistant superintendent of business and operations, Alicia Evans, will “follow up on references for the bidder that we have not previously worked with {North American] because their bid was lower.” 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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