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The Power of Transparency- Identifying $48 million in taxi rides

Our goal at OpenTheBooks.com is to empower citizens through spending transparency so they can start asking tough, fact-based questions.

With that goal in mind, on May 1st we will release 1.1 million lines of new data detailing $52 billion in school district vendor spending from 2006-11.  You can see it at www.openthebooks.com.

Here’s what we found last week:

Since 2006, a handful of school districts used a limited number of taxi cab services to spend $48 million in taxi cab rides. The top 5 districts spent $20 million of that $48 million. The top spending district spent $7400 per day on taxi cabs last year.

Our story sparked national interest.

While this is merely a quick glance across the checkbook, the early indication is that the cabs are used to transport special needs kids to schools and service providers by taxi service.

Is $48 million spent on taxi rides the best way to allocate scarce resources for educations spending? With such large contracts, was there a competitive bidding process or any attempt to find creative, less expensive, less expensive solution?  How would we know without looking into every alternative, including funding parents directly to meet individual transportation needs.

Here’s how it broke down by district (2006-11):

  • 822 school districts spent zero on taxi cab service
  • 42 districts spent over $28 million
  • 5 districts spent over $20 million

Click here to see a district by district annual breakdown of vendors and costs.

95% of IL school districts complied with the state mandate to educate special needs children without taxi cab transportation.  It was only 5% of districts – all in property tax rich northern Illinois – that racked up $48 million in taxi charges.

Let’s get answers.  We call on the districts spending millions to open the books.  Post all taxi cab contracts, original requests for service, bids and all documents relating to the accounting and fulfillment of contracts.


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10 Responses to "The Power of Transparency- Identifying $48 million in taxi rides"


  1. Comment by Steve Weber on May 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm said:

    With 67% of the the tax bill in my county going to school districts we need to pull in the reins and get rid of the fraud and waste. Plug the leak! Nice job on exposing this stupidity and waste.

  2. Comment by Mark on May 1, 2012 at 4:35 pm said:

    That money was not only spent on special needs kids but also on homeless kids. Federal and state law mandate that they are allowed to continue to attend their home school even if they end up in a shelter in another town. In fact, Illinois mandates that the schools continue to provide transportation for these kids at the schools’ expense for 18 months. My district buses the special needs kids and sends cabs for the homeless students. Believe it or not, a taxi is cheaper than sending a big yellow bus for those kids.

  3. Comment by greg on May 1, 2012 at 10:43 pm said:

    who do I call to express my rage ?
    can you make a video and put it on youtube ?

  4. Comment by Bruno Behrend on May 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm said:

    Mark,

    We are aware of the reasons for the spending and the mandates that drive them. The fact remains that reason and common sense indicate that there must be a better way to accomplish this goal, and that the prices for the transportation are probably too high and not bid out in an open and/or creative fashion.

    This situation is also an indicator of just how expense special education mandates are, and how expensive it is to meet them. While no one wants to pit needy kids against taxpayers, the time has come to tell the politicians that the well is running dry. We are about to enter a market where people will walk away from their homes because they cannot afford the property taxes on them.

    Entitled special education parents, exercising their rights under these expansive mandates, are literally chasing people out of their homes, and out of Illinois.

    One obvious next step is to put out a much more transparent and detailed RFP (request for proposal) to a much wider array of service providers. Competition, and creative solutions need to be brought to bear on these opaque, ossified, and stone-walling school administrators. We need EVERY DETAIL of this spending so we can begin the process of bringing it under control.

  5. Pingback by Champion News | $52 Billion in School District Spending Online on May 2, 2012 at 8:43 pm said:

    [...] has placed vendor contracts for school districts online at OpenTheBooks.com. Of this total, $48 Millions was spent on Taxi rides. Here’s how it broke down by district [...]

  6. Comment by Mark on May 8, 2012 at 12:08 pm said:

    Bruno, you wrote that “there must be a better way to accomplish this goal, and that the prices for the transportation are probably too high and not bid out in an open and/or creative fashion.” I can only speak for the district in which I live, but I can tell you that in this case you are incorrect. We DO run a competitive bid for special education transportation (and we just changed providers to save taxpayers $350 thousand per year). What you are still overlooking is the homeless transportation issue, for which we have found that in some cases it is still cost-effective to use a taxi service over a bus. In our district we run about 150 homeless kids each day between nearly a dozen different towns. For those that are close enough we use buses. For those that are a considerable distance away we use approved taxis (special student transport permit is required). It is cheaper to taxi than to bus in those cases (10 miles comes to about $15 to cab or $45 to bus).

    So the assertion that the money has been squandered is, at least in our district, misplaced. This practice has saved the taxpayers in my community many thousands of dollars. If you know how to get the mandate repealed or if you have a more cost effective solution then PLEASE tell me – I want to know.

    I understand the outrage and, believe it or not, I agree with your primary point completely. While I sympathize with the plight of those students and families, these mandates are wrong and should be repealed. What I don’t agree with is drawing conclusions on isolated numbers without investigating the details that led up to those numbers. Please direct your members’ anger at the state that created this issue and not at the school districts that are complying with the law in the most cost-effective manner possible.

  7. Comment by Bruno Behrend on May 12, 2012 at 10:41 am said:

    Mark,

    Let me be more clear. Having a homeless student population (just how does that happen?), or a number of special education students, simply cannot become an open-ended, and never-ending expense upon a school district.

    School districts, of course, by their very nature, want this open-ended expense, along with the mandates forcing them to abide by them, for the simple reason that it allows them the excuse to NEVER cut, and ALWAYS increase spending.

    This has to stop. The proper way to fund education is to fund the child, not the bureaucracy. Special needs children may require more money to properly educate, just a poor children in the urban areas require more $$/child than a “normal” rich suburban kid.

    I’m more than happy to see special needs children funded at a higher level, as long as there is some sort of cap. This is why funding the child is the best policy – both for curriculum and efficiency.
    ___

    The sad fact is that we have allowed the education system to become a sink-hole for all manners of “rights.” The truth is that NO SYSTEM can meet all needs.

    A child’s right to an education has now become the right to food, transportation, not-to-be-bullied (except by unions and administrators, who are the biggest political bullies of all). They have a “right” to a watered-down curriculum that doesn’t “offend” any outlier’s sensibility, they have a “right” to be disruptive in class… etc etc etc.

    The taxi cab issue is indicative of the nature of the system. It only makes sense inside the insanity of the system, yet it is the entire system that must be questioned, TRANSFORMED (not reformed), and appropriately dismantled.

    Let me conclude with this important point. We need to consider a much wider array of options. We defend patently insane policies, such as using cabs picking homeless students up at shelters full of addicts and potentially mentally unstable citizens, yet we reject common-sense solutions like voucherizing special needs students so that a wide variety of service providers can be utilized to solve individualized needs.

    This is merely another example of the insanity of the current system. We ridicule the obvious solution, while we defend needless school districts that churn contracts, dollars, and staff expansion – all to meet mandates they themselves lobby for.

  8. Comment by Mark on May 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm said:

    I am sorry I was traveling on business and have just come back to this. My comment was an attempt to provide more information, which seems to be the purpose of this website. Yet you somehow construe by the end of your response that I WANT to transport homeless children outside of our own district (I do not understand your question about how children become homeless, especially in the current economy – the fact is undeniable). I completely agree with you that, while I am sympathetic to the homeless condition, transporting students from one district to another (by taxi or by bus) is a terrible idea.

    If you read my statement more closely you will see that I believe this mandate is wrong. I did not lobby for this mandate (nor did our school board) – in fact I have publicly criticized it. I am in no way defending the policy, only pointing out the obvious… that this is a state government issue and not a local schools issue. For things to change a law must be overturned. That can not be done on the local level. This expense has nothing to do with increasing spending for nefarious purposes, and has everything to do with making the most cost-effective decision to comply with an unreasonable law. Again, I ask you to point your accusations at Springfield on this one, and I guarantee that you will have the support of some school boards across the state.

    I would also like to respond directly to your statement, “School districts, of course, by their very nature, want this open-ended expense, along with the mandates forcing them to abide by them, for the simple reason that it allows them the excuse to NEVER cut, and ALWAYS increase spending.” I am sorry, but you are wrong. Since I was elected to this board three years ago, we have been cutting expenses and lobbying Springfield to eliminate the mandates that waste taxpayer dollars. I am afraid that our district may be in the minority, but your blanket statement regarding the nature of ALL school districts is misinformed and just plain wrong. As one of the few remaining VOLUNTEER elected officials in this state, I can tell you that I get nothing for spending more tax dollars except the ire of my neighbors. Every effort in our district is currently to reduce spending (which is precisely why we hired a taxi service). If you would like to talk more on this I am sure we agree on a lot more than we disagree. Feel free to email me and I will give you my cell phone number.

  9. Comment by Dianna on June 1, 2012 at 7:06 am said:

    Anyone in this conversation from Richmond-Burton Township. Please start going to the school board meetings. 3rd Wed of the month at the school 7pm. They just approved a 6 million addition to the gym which will cost 38,000 a month additional tax revenues to run the building once it is built. The taxes went up 10% this year and will keep going up although our values are the lowest since 2003. Lets all start to walk the walk not just talk. Go to your school board meetings.

  10. Pingback by For The Good of Illinois PAC — Why Milton Township? on August 10, 2012 at 7:10 am said:

    [...] Taxes for Taxi’s- $50 million – a handful of school districts, a limited number of taxi cab companies, most without negotiated “contracts”-  spend $50 million. [...]