A Note on Methodology
This document discusses how contracting changed between 1994 and 1998 in Ohio. Occasionally the present tense is used and in most cases this refers to the final reporting year, 1998. The dollar figures presented in the analysis have not been adjusted for inflation. In almost all cases the study uses median rather than average costs, to avoid distortion by outliers. To increase the validity of the study’s findings medians are compared across five consecutive years. The median district is that district exactly in the middle of the set of districts being discussed. Thus, of the 561 Ohio school districts that used no contractors in 1998, the median district in terms of pupil costs was the district for which 280 districts had higher pupil costs, and 280 had lower. Of the 13 districts that used primarily contractors in 1997, the median district for cost per mile was the district that had six districts with higher per-mile costs and six with lower. Using the median provides a sense of what the typical district in a category experienced. In discussing changes in pupils or costs, the earlier year is used as the base. For example, when the number of districts that rely primarily on contractors increased 56 percent since 1994 is used, it means that the number of districts that rely primarily on contractors in 1998 (14 districts) was 56 percent higher than the number in 1994 (9 districts).
At various points in the study, comparisons are made between three types of districts. As mentioned earlier, Type 1 districts transport fewer than 10 students through a private contractor. Type 2 districts transport more than ten pupils but less than half of all bused students through a private contractor (and typically it is less than 3 percent). Type 3 districts are those whose transportation operation is overwhelmingly managed and operated by a private vendor, meaning that more than half of the students eligible for transportation are bused by a contractor. Type 3 districts include cases in which the districts own all or part of the bus fleet but contract out the management and operation of the system.
When comparing characteristics across district types, only school districts that report to the state that they transport pupils in-house or use a contractor are included. Districts that do not transport any children are excluded from the comparative analysis as are districts that rely exclusively on payment to parents or other public utilities, such as a city bus service, for the transportation of pupils. These include only a handful of districts and the inclusion would skew the results of the study. For additional information on the methodology see Appendix A.
Finally, a short disclaimer is in order before the results of the research are presented. As is the case in many areas of school finance, assessing the costs of pupil transportation is a complicated exercise. In undertaking the study, a concerted effort was made to collect data from the state on the costs districts incur through transportation and the reimbursements they receive. The conclusions reached here rest on the accuracy of the reports that districts submit to the state. Moreover, there are other ways in which one might evaluate pupil transportation from the districts’ perspective and other variables that might be considered, including safety, qualifications of drivers and overall flexibility. It might also be reasonable to evaluate pupil transportation from the perspective of drivers, parents, the community or even students. For reasons of time and access to data, none of these factors were considered in this study. The research also does not address questions of state finance: how, in particular, the state’s system for reimbursing districts for the operation, replacement and addition of school buses impacts a school board’s calculus concerning contracting. Finally, the study does not specifically consider other forms of pupil transportation or the transportation of disabled students.