Dallas’ financially struggling school bus bureaucracy got a temporary reprieve this week with a short-term loan to help cover operating expenses through the end of the year. But the tax-subsidized agency needs more than money to stay open.
Dallas County Schools needs bus drivers if it’s to continue servicing the ten area school districts that have transportation contracts with the agency. And thanks to legislation passed earlier this year, DCS also needs the support of Dallas County voters if it’s to continue operating at all.
“Without the drivers the ship sinks,” one driver said at Tuesday’s DCS board meeting.
Drivers have said they’ll help their employer win the Nov. 7 election in which voters will decide if the agency stays open or is shut down – despite their concerns about the agency’s dubious financial future.
That crisis has been averted temporarily by an $8.75 million short-term “tax anticipation note” that will reportedly cost Dallas County taxpayers more than $370,000 in interest payments over the next 11 months. The at-risk agency was prevented by the Texas Attorney General’s office from restructuring its current bond debt to raise cash
Residents and lawmakers alike have questioned why DCS is $130 million in debt, despite being subsidized by all Dallas County taxpayers – whether their school uses the agency or not. Local residents who don’t benefit from the bus bureaucracy may not be inclined to vote for keeping it, or the tax that supports it.
Union representatives told the board they’d also help organize bus drivers to win voters’ support for keeping DCS open. But drivers say the board needs to win them over first.
The board’s vote Tuesday to stop guaranteeing drivers a 30-hour work week didn’t help their case; management is still considering whether to maintain drivers’ holiday pay and other benefits.
DCS may not be able to afford to give drivers what they want – or afford not to. Ultimately, though, the fate of embattled agency is in the hands of local voters — but only if they show up in November.