Dallas County students, school districts, and taxpayers have a big problem: a bus bureaucracy that is dangerous, unreliable, and so financially mismanaged that it’s on the verge of bankruptcy.
That’s why a coalition led by Dallas-area elected officials is encouraging voters to abolish the taxpayer-subsidized school transportation agency when they go to the polls this November.
“Our students, schools, parents, and taxpayers deserve so much better,” said Dallas school board trustee Dustin Marshall, one of the leaders of the Protect Dallas Kids campaign – a diverse coalition that is working to abolish Dallas County Schools.
What exactly is Dallas County Schools?
“It certainly isn’t a school,” says State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), who formed the Protect Dallas Kids PAC along with Marshall and his fellow Dallas Independent School District trustee Edwin Flores.
“Dallas County Schools is a government bus bureaucracy that taxes everybody in Dallas County – businesses and residents – to provide school bus service to some of the ISDs in Dallas County,” Huffines explained in an interview earlier this month.
It’s a government bureaucracy that provides bus service very badly. As Marshall notes,
“DCS buses ran 480 red lights in just two years. Their buses were subject to 4,000 reckless driving complaints. DCS’ crashes increased by 103 percent in the 2015-2016 school year (405 crashes) as compared to the 2014-2015 school year (200 crashes)…
While student safety is my first concern, I’m also appalled at the unreliable, chronically late bus service DCS provides. With an on-time rate of only 66 percent for Dallas ISD, far too many students are missing breakfast or even class time, meaning this bus bureaucracy is actually getting in the way of our students’ education.”
Unsafe, unreliable bus service isn’t the agency’s only problem. Taxpayers are also concerned about financial mismanagement and alleged corruption that have left DCS struggling with $130 million in debt, ongoing operating losses, and a credit rating below junk status.
Despite it struggles to perform, the cash-strapped agency voted last month to increase the tax rate it imposes on all Dallas County property owners. But the additional tax revenue that increase will generate is minimal compared to the agency’s debt.
“They are dangerous, they are financially corrupt, and they are unreliable,” Huffines sums up, a message he’s been hammering for over a year.
The agency’s terrible track record led Huffines to author legislation to abolish DCS. But another Dallas lawmaker, Democrat State Sen. Royce West, pushed to punt the decision to Dallas County voters, who will now decide the agency’s fate in a November election. West’s demands are costing taxpayers nearly a million dollars in election expenses that DCS has to pay.
A vote “against” Dallas County Schools Proposition A will start an orderly wind-down of the troubled agency.
DCS can’t use taxpayer money to campaign in the election. It did, however, lobby the legislature to keep its doors open at taxpayers’ expense, spending more than a million dollars on lobbyists and legislative consultants over the past three years.
“Part of our task will be to educate voters that there will be an orderly transition where DISD will absorb the buses, absorb the drivers that are skilled and qualified, and that kids will not be left on the street corner,” Marshall said.
The drivers’ unions say they’ll back bus drivers over taxpayers. The Texas State Teachers Association and National Education Association plan to actively campaign to get out the vote in favor of keeping the bureaucracy open, despite its financial problems and mismanagement.
They face an uphill battle.
As Huffines notes, the shut-down effort has bipartisan support. Even Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings supports shutting down DCS. Rawlings said in a statement as a private citizen:
“Every part of the education process is critical, from in-school instruction to after-school activities to our students’ transportation system. We need to have the best transportation system possible for our schoolchildren. That’s why it’s time for us to unite against Dallas County Schools.”
DCS is failing students, school districts, and taxpayers by every measure, and would have already collapsed financially if not subsidized by taxpayers.
So how bad does a government bureaucracy have to be to get shut down? Dallas County voters will decide.
Election Day is November 7; Early Voting starts October 23. The last day to register to vote in the election is October 10.