Our posting of $52 billion of school vendor spending, which triggered our finding millions of dollars of district spending on taxi cabs, is getting some coverage.
The organization’s analysis found that Township High School Dist. 214 ranked number one in the state, spending $6.836 million during the five-year period for which they obtained data dating back to 2006.
Maine Township High School Dist. 207 ranked second with $4.5 million spent during that same period and Northfield Township High School Dist. 225 ranked fourth, spending $2.3 million.
Bruno Behrend, executive director at For the Good of Illinois, acknowledged the analysis is limited and said that his organization planned to conduct a comprehensive study. He said the goal was to make citizens aware of how school districts are spending tax dollars.
“What we were trying to do is expose the citizens to how their government entities are spending money,” he said.
Behrend acknowledged that the majority of the spending on taxicab transportation programs is for special needs students who have Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and that school districts choose such programs because they are mandated to by law. But he questioned if using such programs was sound fiscal policy.
The article covers what will be the standard school district response.
“We’re the second largest school district in the state with six high schools and 12,300 students,” she said. “The other thing is the number of special needs students varies from district to district. It’s not an apples to apples comparison.”
According to Parenti, special needs students make up roughly 13% to 14% of Dist. 214’s population and 80% of the costs to transport them to and from school are reimbursed by the state.
Nonetheless, Parenti said Dist. 214 officials have been working to find ways to lower the costs of transporting students with special needs to its schools.
Parenti has been working with state legislators to help pass legislation that would allow the district to use its current fleet of Multi-Function School Activity Busses (MFSAB) to transport special needs students at a cost savings of $500,000 a year, according to Parenti.
Given Illinois school districts’ propensity to spend first and ask as few questions as possible later, count us skeptical. First, any state mandate that forces the use of cab companies should be instantly suspect. Rather, legislation should be written to induce volunteerism, ride sharing, and involvement from the local community. Of course, this might lower campaign contributions from the 5-7 big cab companies that give so lavishly to politicians.
There have to be 10s, if not 100s of ways, to address special education transport with out resorting to cabs. Giving their parents a travel stipend comes to mind as one of the most reasonable, but again, that strips out the donors too.