Three school districts serving the Gurnee area intend to replace or supplement the current use of private taxis for students who require special-needs transportation.
Woodland Elementary District 50, Gurnee Elementary District 56 and Warren Township High School District 121 have entered into the deal to share in-house school bus operations to provide rides for homeless children and certain special education students who attend classes at private facilities.
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Officials said when the plan is finalized, it should save money and improve student safety starting in the 2012-13 academic year.
"This shared service will provide the districts better control over vehicle quality, staff selection and consistency, insurance coverage, scheduling and program cost," according to a District 50 document. "Combined, the three districts spend in excess of $850,000 per year in private cab costs. We believe that we can provide a better service for less than this amount."
District 56 Superintendent John Hutton said as the three school systems studied transportation costs, officials noticed an increasing demand to hire taxi companies to provide round-trip rides for homeless pupils and for the special education children sent to private facilities.
Hutton said unlike the in-house bus operations at districts 50, 56 and 121, officials have little control over the quality of the cabdrivers or their vehicles.
"It is very difficult to ensure that the taxi companies have valid insurance, conduct criminal background checks and do sexual predator checks," Hutton said. "This initiative will allow us to control all of those variables."
District 121 school board President John Anderson said the agreement is "a great opportunity" for the three districts covering the Gurnee area to save money by reducing or eliminating the need for taxis. He noted it's not the first time Warren has combined resources with another Gurnee-based school district.
In the 2010-11 school year, Warren and District 56 started combining bus operations with an expectation of saving at least a combined $200,000 annually for at least five years. The young grade-school children ride separately from the Warren teenagers.