Belleville High School District 201 is now in the school bus business and providing transportation to seven elementary school districts as well.
The idea is to save money on the $4.4 million the district this year will spend on getting students to and from school, but it is a scary proposition. They are leasing to own a fleet of 216 buses and hiring 280 employees to run them, likely purchasing the bus lot facilities on Mascoutah Avenue in Belleville from current contractor First Student for as much as $2.5 million and putting the administration, insurance, pensions and other moving parts in place from scratch.
It’s either a bold move or a risky gamble, but here’s hoping — for property taxpayers’ sake — that the number crunchers got it right.
They weren’t very forthcoming about the savings Monday night when the school board approved the deal. When asked again Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer said his projection is a $543,000 savings to the district, but the safer number is in the $400,000 to $500,000 range once exact costs are established and with cushion for contingencies.
He said the district can run things more cheaply than a business because:
▪ They can borrow money at a municipal rate, which is cheaper than a business loan.
▪ Fuel is 41 cents a gallon cheaper because the district pays no taxes on it.
▪ Workmen’s comp insurance rates are cheaper for the district.
▪ Overtime controls should yield some economies.
Not to mention, the district doesn’t need to make a profit for shareholders or owners.
So why take all this on in the first place? Our State of Disarray is, again, being blamed.
Illinois promised $2.6 million for the high school district transportation costs this school year. So far it has paid: $0.
Plus, Illinois is a little more in the hole because they will no longer collect those bus fuel taxes. And they put another $10,473 a year burden on other local property taxpayers because the bus lot will pass from private to public hands.
And the hits just keep on coming.