District Reverses Gears on Busing Contract

CLARKSTON —Exercising an option provided for in a 1994 contract, the Clarkston School District (Oakland County) notified National School Bus Service on January 13 that it would no longer transport students to and from school.

The issue that led to the contract termination concerned heaters in the buses. The Clarkston Board of Education, claiming it was unable to get National to provide adequately heated buses, declared the contract null and void. Options at the time of this writing included renegotiation with National, leasing a newer fleet, purchasing buses from a savings account created when the district sold its old buses to National, or some combination of these options. National recently merged with Laidlaw Transit, Inc., the nation’s largest private student transportation provider and the fastest growing provider in Michigan. Laidlaw’s contract with nearby Fenton is expected to save the school district in that community more than $460,000 over the next five years.

While some argued that this was an instance of a privatization failure, others said that the ease with which the contract was terminated underscored the fact that proper privatization makes it possible for poor performance to be corrected quickly. Performance problems, when they arise in a monopolistic public bureaucracy, can fester for years before anything can be done about them.

Clarkston Superintendent Al Roberts continues to urge an open-minded approach to privatization. He points out that the district’s experience with contracting out maintenance and grounds work has been a success.

Meanwhile, in February, the Upper Peninsula community of Rudyard joined the growing number of school districts in Michigan looking seriously at privatizing student transportation. And in March, one of west Michigan’s fastest-growing school districts—Wayland Union near Grand Rapids—decided after a year-long study not to contract out its busing to a private company.