‘No’ Vote Would Close Bus Service

DCS took in just more than $18 million in property taxes in 2016, according to tax records. (Photo: Joshua Baethge)

This month, Dallas County voters will determine the fate of an embattled taxing entity that provides bus services for several independent school districts in North Texas.

Highland Park ISD and Dallas ISD are weighing their options on how to proceed if voters shutter Dallas County Schools, the recipient of a one-cent property tax charged to those living within Dallas County.

Dallas ISD officials have prepared a plan for operating an in-house bus system should the agency be dissolved, but HPISD administrators are a little less certain of how they’d accommodate 24 special needs students reliant on the service.

In addition to property tax revenue, Dallas County Schools (DCS) also receives revenue from its customer districts to cover the cost for bus service. DISD spends about $50 million a year for the service, while Highland Park uses about $241,000 from its special education grant.

HPISD Communications Director Jon Dahlander said the district is still searching for a Plan B.

“There are very few vendors who can provide this type of service,” he said. “We’ll obviously await the outcome of the election and adjust.”

Should voters elect to end DCS, a dissolution committee will take over through the end of the school year, giving districts some time to figure out their next steps.

Dallas ISD, which serves just fewer than 30,000 students districtwide with the bus service, has 58 bus routes that run through Preston Hollow, said Scott Layne, DISD deputy superintendent of operations.

Layne said the district has come up with three options should DCS be dissolved: an in-house bus line, a service contract with another provider, or a hybrid in-house/contract scenario.

“We’ve looked at preliminary numbers, and we believe that we can operate an in-house program for what we have budgeted,” he said.

The reason the in-house system would work, Layne said, is because the district wouldn’t be strapped for the initial capital investment of buying buses — a close to $100 million expense.

“There’s been a lot of talk about why did Dallas ISD get involved with the bill, and the very simple and true answer to that is we did what we had to do to protect our assets in the event that [DCS] no longer existed,” Layne said.

Dallas ISD was one of the several critical voices in Austin when the fate of DCS was being considered.

Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa openly expressed dissatisfaction with DCS to the State Senate Education Committee, citing ridership decline from 51,000 in 2012 to 28,000 in the current school year. He said the cost of the program per student continued to rise from $800 to $1,600 in those same years.

DISD board member Edwin Flores slammed the agency for its 68-percent on-time performance rate, which Layne noted has improved this year.

Layne added that should voters elect to keep DCS, that doesn’t necessarily mean DISD would continue to use the service.

“We just want to take care of our kids and do it in the most cost-effective means possible, and I think I’ll leave it at that,” he said.

DCS did not return several calls and emails seeking comment on this story.

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