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Take the 'school' out of school bus? Greeley-Evans considers privatizing transportation

The Greeley-Evans superintendent, Dr. Deirdre Pilch, sent a letter home to parents explaining that she was thinking about a proposal to privatize the transportation needs of the Weld County District 6.

DENVER — Should districts take the "school" out of school bus?

The Greeley-Evans superintendent, Dr. Deirdre Pilch, sent a letter home to parents explaining that she was thinking about a proposal to privatize the transportation needs of the Weld County District 6.

One reason cited in the letter is the common issue of a shortage of drivers applying for open jobs.

"We have restored as many routes as we can, but we still have 11 open positions that have prevented us from fully restoring elementary and middle school routes," Pilch wrote in the letter.

Jennifer Okes is the chief operating officer of the Colorado Department of Education.

"We see that when the economy is very strong that it becomes more difficult to recruit and retain school bus drivers," Okes said.

She says four districts in Colorado currently contract out school busses.

"Some districts may consider it if they have an older school bus fleet and want to avoid that capital expenditure of new busses," Okes said.

Dr. Pilch wrote in the letter, "The only reason we are looking at contracting for transportation services is to restore services to our families and to provide newer and safer busses at a minimal cost to the district."

Okes says the safety standards are the same no matter who is running the school bus system.

"I don't think we've seen that it's any more or less expensive to privatize this," Okes said. "All of the safety concerns are the same, so it's just as safe to have it in-house versus contracted out."

Mesa Valley Schools in Grand Junction did it more than 20 years ago. Chief Operating Officer Phil Onofrio says it's had ups and downs.

"The first thing is to find a good provider. If the provider is good, service should be great," Onofrio said.

He says contracting school busses has saved his district money while providing enough drivers during this time of shortage across the state of Colorado.

"They can be more flexible in the hours and in the way they can pay people as a private company than we can as a government entity," Onofrio said.

At this point, privatization is only a thought in Greeley, not a reality. Pilch has yet to present a plan to the Greeley-Evans school board if she presents one, at all.