At a Dallas County Schools board meeting Tuesday, the scandal-plagued school bus bureaucracy got a glimmer of good news. According to an outside auditor’s report, the agency is a “going concern.” That means auditors believe DCS has the ability to stay afloat and avoid bankruptcy for now, despite suffering multi-million dollar deficits and recurring operating losses including $43 million from its controversial stop-arm program.
Board President Larry Duncan said it was “essential to present a ‘going concern’ audit to the Legislature,” where a pair of bills aimed at abolishing DCS are working their way through the Texas House and Senate.
“These are not liquidation-basis financials,” auditor David Duree with the accounting firm Weaver told the DCS board. “Management has plans to get where they need to be.”
But that may be too little, too late to save the barely-solvent agency from being shut down by state lawmakers.
The House Public Education Committee heard testimony today on House Bill 2329 by State Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) to defund and potentially abolish DCS. The bill would prohibit DCS from collecting a countywide equalization tax or annual ad valorem taxes after 2017.
Burkett’s bill also calls for the agency to be shut down if districts representing at least 75 percent of the county’s student population don’t use its services. Currently DCS provides bus services to ten North Texas school districts. Weatherford and Coppell recently canceled their agreements ahead of schedule, proving lawmakers’ point that districts have better alternatives to DCS.
Senate Bill 1122 by State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) passed out of the Senate Education Committee last week and is headed for a vote by the full chamber. If enacted, SB 1122 will set up a dissolution committee to wind down DCS and pay off the agency’s debts. The dissolution committee would continue providing transportation services to participating school districts through the 2017-2018 school year, then distribute DCS buses and facilities among the districts.
The version of the bill approved by the Senate committee also gives the superintendent of Dallas Independent School District – the agency’s largest customer – a place on the five-person dissolution committee.
Huffines has called DCS “an outdated, unnecessary bureaucracy that is dangerous for students and a rip off for Dallas County taxpayers.”
Several DCS officials defended their agency in the Senate committee hearing on SB 1122. Interim Superintendent Leatha Mullins said at Tuesday’s board meeting that they would also testify against the House bill. Mullins said their goal was to “tell the tale of DCS” and why they believe they’re “an organization who should stay around for another 100 years.”
Yet even the Dallas Morning News agrees that it’s time to abolish the mismanaged bus agency that “collects property taxes but doesn’t operate schools.”
Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, has written a bill, SB 1122, that would abolish the agency, its board of trustees and its superintendent. That’s a painful step, but a necessary one. DCS has outlived its utility. School districts still need bus service; they just don’t need DCS to provide it.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa spoke before the Senate committee in favor of shutting down DCS. He and DISD board member Edwin Flores testified that the agency’s busing prices are out of control, having doubled from $800 to over $1,600 per student in just four years.
Flores also cited DCS’s dismal 68 percent on-time performance rate.
“This is really about an unaccountable bureaucracy gone wild, period,” Flores said. “This is a monopoly that is unaccountable to everybody. And it’s essential that we close it.”
For the benefit of Dallas County students and taxpayers, HB 2329 and SB 1122 aim to do just that.