Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On busing and consortia

First story on this issue to cross the desk, regarding a pilot project by Renfrew County boards to stagger bell times so buses can be double-run. Not a novel concept in and of itself, as many other boards across the country already do this. It does provide a launching point for a short history lesson and some comment.
Some three to four years ago, after decades of some boards haggling it out and coming to no agreement, the province mandated school bus consortia be formed across Ontario. It arbitrarily drew lines around the province and boards were told to begin the process of forming new corporations to manage all school transportation within each consortia's boundaries. Most consortia would have representatives from at least one English public and English Catholic board, along with their counterpart French public/Catholic boards. The governance of the consortia was, despite the size of the pot of transportation cash each board brought to the table, mandated that each board have equal ownership of the corporation.
Many of these consortia are now legally established corporations, with directors and education and whatever superintendent-level administrator responsible for transportation sitting as directors. Some consortia are in the first year of a three-year plan where they first bring together all the mapping and route planning without making any significant changes. In this stage the consortia are also harmonizing all the various boards' transportation policies, such as determining who is eligible for school bus transportation and who has to walk. In year two and beyond, each consortia starts rationalizing routes so that instead of two or three buses travelling down a road picking up students for individual schools, one bus picks all of them up and drops them off at each school along the way. The goal is fewer buses and lower transportation costs.
For 2009-10 this initiative is being given a few kicks in the rear end by the folks at the MinEd. Boards have been told they must reduce transportation costs by one per cent through route optimization. If they don't do so, the ministry will simply reduce their funding by an equivalent amount.
Sounds easy, right?
Add this to the mix and now it sounds a little weirder.
As part of the consortia process, efficiency and effectiveness reviews ("E&E" in ministry parlance) are being conducted across the province. But the reviews are leading to interesting ends. One local administrator responsible for transportation explained it to education reporter as such: If boards are "inefficient" and spend more than their calculated grant on transportation, the E&E review comes in and works with staff. If staff do a good enough job at explaining and rationalizing why the board needs to spend more than its grant, the E&E review could confirm and legitimize this overexpenditire and then, poof, the board's transportation grant is adjusted. If boards, however, are "efficient" and spend under their grant, after the E&E review comes in and confirms this the ministry would claw back the savings.
As the adminstrator frustratingly said, what's the incentive? If the board saves money on transportation in hopes of then diverting that funding to other programs or services where costs are above the grant, the ministry comes and takes the money away. If the board runs over budget on transportation for legitimate reasons, the ministry comes in and funds the transportation deficit. It's a model that encourages boards to spend up to the last penny of their transportation grant (or higher) so the ministry doesn't claw back any funds.
Given these issues, it should be an interesting day when the province moves to complete the consortia initiative by cutting boards completly out of the transportation game. The end goal here is to have the money flow directly to the consortia and have no direct funding from boards.


Anonymous said...

So is it also the goal of the MOE to squeeze boards entirely from the education picture?

Why all of the jumping through hoops and why aren't the boards making this information available to their communities?

Seems to me with school councils and now parent "engagement" vehicles and money to go with those, that at some point our elected trustees need to share this with their communities.

One thing for sure is that this government is proving itself to be the micro-managing KING OF THE CENTRE CONTROL. The irony of course is that the education premier accused the previous Harris gov't of micro-managing things too much from the centre.

Clearly stuff like you've described takes the cake.

I'm pretty sure that boards, especially rural ones have still never been funded appropriately for transportation.