You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 5:49 a.m.

Five Washtenaw County school districts eye busing consolidation

By David Jesse

Five of Washtenaw County’s 10 traditional school districts are poised to join forces in a countywide busing system, Dexter’s transportation director told his school board Monday night.

Transportation director Sean Burton cautioned that the five districts - Ann Arbor, Lincoln, Whitmore Lake, Willow Run and Ypsilanti - haven’t formally made the decision. But he said they've indicated strong interest in joining together to save millions of dollars on busing.

The remaining five districts - Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Milan and Saline - aren’t to that point yet, Burton said.


Dexter is among the districts hoping to save on transportation costs.

If only the first five districts band together, about $4.5 million in savings could be generated. That would be split among the participating districts.

If all 10 county school districts join together, officials say current transportation budgets would fall from a combined $23.64 million to $17.72 million.

Under each of the scenarios, busing would be controlled by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, and current bus drivers and other transportation department staff would become WISD employees.

Under the plans being developed by a task force working with outside consultants, the number of transportation department employees in the county would fall from 573 to 536.

All Washtenaw County districts are currently experiencing budget problems due to projected cuts in the per-pupil funding from the state in time for next year’s budget.

The plan would be to implement the new busing system in the fall.

Along with lowering costs by reducing the number of employees, savings would also be realized by ordering large quantities of gas and other parts, sharing facilities, less overhead and rerouting buses.

Many local districts are currently exploring ways to reduce their transportation costs.

Dexter has put together a plan to keep the transportation department in the district, but change routes and increase the number of kids on a bus.

Several parents spoke Monday night in opposition to that plan.

In Ann Arbor, district administrators have taken bids on privatizing the system, which would bring an outside firm to do the work.

Burton said he doesn't think privatizing is the way to go and believes districts would get initial savings, but then would see costs creep back up.

“We really don’t feel privatization is an answer,” he said. “It’s just not a way to do business, in my opinion.”

One big cost savings under the consolidation plan could come from eliminating the number of miles a bus runs without students in it, thanks to staging options and sharing facilities. Estimates are for $1.3 million in savings across the county in that area alone, Burton said.

The task force looking into consolidation has begun to draw up routes and the systems needed to run the new operation.

No date has been set for the local districts to opt in or out, but Burton said time is running short.

“It’s to the point now that if we want to go, we need to go.”

David Jesse covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Wed, Apr 28, 2010 : 8:32 a.m.

Yes, charter schools are thriving without bus service. But, what kind of students are attending? Obviously a parent has to be available to drive the kids to and from school each and every day. That excludes a lot of families. Is there a source for administrative jobs and salaries anywhere? Not the employees names, just the job titles and salary ranges.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 6:17 p.m.

We really dont feel privatization is an answer, he said. Its just not a way to do business, in my opinion. Unbelievable! Spoken like a true BIG GOVERNMENT bureaucrat. Only government knows how to do business. Please, please, please Mr. Burton, teach us dumb small business people how to run a failing business just like you do. And you wonder why people are unemployed in Michigan and everywhere else???? And, Atlas shrugged.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 3:48 p.m.

@scooter dog, It appears times have changed since I was a student in Dexter 30 years ago. The bus dropped us off in large numbers and made us walk. Now, in Saline, they drive their 'little darlings' to school regardless of distance to school. 1/4 mile, 10 miles, doesn't matter. It's just not 'cool' to ride the bus or walk. Those walks to and from the bus stop bring back great memories...

scooter dog

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 3:07 p.m.

What they need to do is STOP the curb service.On my street in dexter schools they stop at each and every house and WAIT for them to come out of there houses if there not out waiting for the bus. When I went to school and took the bus that my parents had to pay for you went to where the bus stop was and waited,rain/shine/whatever. Me and my brothers walked 1/2 a mile to get to the bus stop and walked home from it each night.Now days they want the bus to drive up there driveway so their little darlings won't get wet. Wow, when will the circus end


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 2:57 p.m.

Busing? When I was a kid, I walked 10 miles to school, up hill, both ways.

Andrew Thomas

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 2:24 p.m.

Pay-to-ride bus service (with no charge for free/reduced lunch students) is certainly an option, although probably a rather unpopular one, and certainly quite controversial. It is likely to come up as a topic for discussion if we're hit with another round of funding cuts. The only mandate for free transportation is for special ed.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 2:17 p.m.

Couldn't the schools charge for school bus service? I would expect them to have pricing set with discounts or free service for students who qualify for free lunch. There is no requirement for free bus service except for special ed students in Michigan Law.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 1:33 p.m.

It's only a matter of time until bus services are eliminated completely. Charter schools exist without it, and they seem to be thriving in every way. Unless the funding system is severely overhauled to assist districts, this constant searching for ways to cut will go on and on. People are overtaxed now, and it appears that the districts are finding opposition to every idea they propose to decrease transportation costs. Just stop the time-consuming, expensive debates and prolonging of the obvious. Fortunately this country provides a public education to any one that wants it. But that doesn't mean it's the responsibility to transport anyone to it.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 12:32 p.m.

@DonBee So, is your assumption that your children will spend less time on the bus with consolidation? I'd like to see the details of how they are going to do this before any decisions are made.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 12:24 p.m.

This has a direct impact on my family. My children spend an hour plus on the bus each morning and evening getting to and from school. If it happens, it would be a nice start. The consolidation of substitute teachers was also a good deal for everyone. I would love to see more of this kind of effort. In fact everyone who is not in a building with students and dealing with students directly should be consolidated. I appreciate that people are working to find ways to stretch tax dollars and make them go farther.

scooter dog

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 10:20 a.m.

This is the first thing comming from the schools that has made any sense in 20 yrs.Finally dawned on them that taxpayers are fed up with their business as usual ways of doing things.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:59 a.m.

How about adding to efficiencies by including the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to the mix? It has many routes already available to a number of school districts. Although this is turf outside WISD, school boards and taxpayers need to challenge the school bureaucracies to look at this option especially in a way it improves the overall community as a whole.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:55 a.m.

Am I correct in assuming that each of these districts that have a bus fleet probably have their own maintenance facilities? Couldn't adjacent districts combine that? Seems interesting that a Saline bus couldn't drive 10 miles for an oil change to a common garage. Just a thought.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:50 a.m.

I would like to hear more details of what consolidation would look like. My children attend an Ann Arbor school, for example - will there be fewer bus stops? Will bus routes or times change? Will the walk zone around schools be extended? How would this affect buses being used for school field trips?, can you find out any of this information?

Fat Bill

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:12 a.m.

While some districts are clearly top-heavy, others like Saline run relatively lean and have for years. For example, Saline has two mechanics to maintain 45 busses, 1 director, and 1 coordinator. They have even purchased used busses when it makes sense. Provided the Saline drivers are willing to work for wage/benefits that are competitive with the WISD drivers, it is likely that Saline could retain control of its transportation resources. From my perspective as a parent, I would rather have people who are connected to the community in some way transporting my kids; with the consolidation effort a driver from anywhere could simply be "assigned" to a particular route in a particular district. In addition, if I have a complaint, I can work my up a clearly defined chain of command, director through superintendent.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 7:38 a.m.

Not only should transportation be consolidated the whole administration of the districts should be consolidated. If Michigan consolidated all local districts into county or regional districts the money saved in reduced administrative salaries alone would be in the millions of dollars. Most states that have undertaken serious educational reform have adopted this type of educational administration.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 7:28 a.m.

Yes, I am wondering why we have heard about teacher lay offs but no lay offs in the Ballas building. It would be great to see a list of jobs there and their pay scales. Can't some of the duties be shared to eliminate a couple positions?


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 6:53 a.m.

>> How about a county wide superintendent. More than just transportation needs to be consolidated. Some small districts are already sharing administrators.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 6:01 a.m.

How about a county wide superintendent.

Andrew Thomas

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 5:46 a.m.

Seems like a no-brainer. What do the five non-participating districts think they gain by going it alone?