Five districts ‘testing ground’ for study

Local school districts eyed for shared transportation service study

The Martins Ferry City School District is one of five districts participating in a shared transportation services feasibility study that will be conducted by the Ohio Auditor’s Office to help cut costs to school districts across the state. T-L Photo/ JANELL HUNTER

BELLAIRE — Superintendent Darren Jenkins hopes the Bellaire Local School District and four other local districts will be able to cut transportation costs by sharing services.

House Bill 5, which took effect as law in September, allows the Ohio Auditor’s Office to provide a service to local government entities, including school districts, to study the feasibility of improving efficiency by sharing services across districts.

As a result of that legislation, several Eastern Ohio school districts formed the Ohio Shared Services Collaborative consortium that used grant money established by HB 5 to analyze and track bus routes, idle time and feasibility of shared services and facilities.

After the initial OSSC study, Bellaire Local School District was chosen to receive the first shared services feasibility study conducted by the state auditor’s office. The studies will be performed by the Auditor’s Ohio Performance Team.

“At the request of the Bellaire Local School District, the first study will research the possible cost savings and efficiency improvements that could result from sharing school bus facilities and maintenance resources with the four partnering school districts in Belmont County: Bridgeport Exempted Village School District; Martins Ferry City School District; Shadyside Local School District; and St. Clairsville-Richland City School District,” the state auditor’s office said in a recent news release.

Two educational service centers, East Central Ohio ESC and Muskingum Valley ESC, will help to facilitate the project.

“There’s a significant potential for savings and improvements from seven governments joining forces,” said state Auditor Dave Yost. “I’m eager to see the results of what I’m sure will be the first of many feasibility studies across the state.”

All five districts in the current study were a part of the original consortium, and they were chosen to be the first feasibility study because the districts are geographically close and were deemed as “having the greatest potential to increase efficiency through sharing transportation maintenance facilities,” according to Jenkins.

“We are looking at ways to create economies of scale to drive down bus maintenance costs. The study has nothing to do with bus routes, only sharing of facilities and services for bus maintenance,” Jenkins emphasized.

Jenkins believes the study — which will compare what each district spends on routine maintenance, such as oil, filter, belt and tire changes — will determine whether combining those services will save money for all districts.

“If we can save money any way on the operational, non-instructional side of the ledger, that will free up more money to support our core mission, which is educating students,” Jenkins said.

The study will kick off in May, when data will be collected. The data will be analyzed over the summer and decisions will be made in the fall.

“I want to recognize that this may be anxiety-provoking, but we are not trying to reduce staff, just trying to figure out how to capture some out-of-the-box thinking that may yield positive results,” Jenkins concluded.

East Central Ohio ESC Superintendent Randy Lucas believes the five eastern Ohio districts that are being studied will provide data that eventually will be used for shared services models across the state, and eventually across the nation.

“We are the testing ground for this volunteer study that will be a valuable cost-benefit analysis. If we find that if it makes sense in a small pocket, why not expand it to a broader reach,” Lucas noted.