Students across the state have not needed any transportation services since in-person classes were canceled in late March, but transportation providers, including the firm that services District 97 students, are still getting paid.
During a regular meeting on May 12, the D97 school board voted unanimously to approve an amended transportation service agreement with Lakeview Bus Lines to continue paying a percentage of the money they would have gotten if schools had not closed.
The action comes after the Illinois State Board of Education strongly encouraged school districts in the state to continue paying their transportation providers for the rest of the school year even though students have not been transported during the shutdown, explained Rob Grossi, the district’s financial consultant, in a board memo.
“To encourage such action, Governor Pritzker has declared an executive order whereby ISBE will reimburse expenses made during the shutdown in the same percentage that existed prior to the shutdown,” Grossi said. “For Oak Park School District 97, that means approximately 70 percent of transportation costs related to special education would be reimbursed by ISBE and basically 0 percent of regular transportation expenses would be reimbursed, since few of the district’s routes are eligible for reimbursement.”
Initially, Lakeview had requested 85 percent reimbursement of both their special education and regular transportation costs to be paid by D97, Grossi said, but “after considering the low state reimbursement percentages on the payment, this would have cost the district approximately $500,000 of their own dollars.”
Given the “uncertain financial impact of COVID-19 on the district, I could not in good faith recommend the acceptance of the request to the board.”
The agreement between Lakeview and the district entails D97 paying Lakeview $400,000 for special education transportation, which is less than 50 percent of the “expected bill for the remainder of the fiscal year,” Grossi said.
He added that the district expects to receive $280,000 in reimbursements from the state, so the district will end up paying $120,000 of its own funds.
“As a part of the agreement, Lakeview would commit to providing credits to future bills in the amount of the funds for which the district is not reimbursed in order to make the district whole,” said Grossi, adding that Lakeview and D97 agreed the district will not pay any money for regular transpiration expenses, since D97 won’t be reimbursed by the state for those.