HomeOperationsCommunication, Questions Are Key When Contracting Out Operations

Communication, Questions Are Key When Contracting Out Operations

The decision to onboard more partners into an operation is never taken lightly. Two transportation directors recently shared tips for a smooth transition, which includes knowing what questions to ask vendors.

Debbie Schomisch, transportation director at Farwell Area Schools in Michigan, said that during the transition from operating in-house routes to outsourcing, it is important to navigate the learning curve. Her district, located about 60 miles northwest of Saginaw, contracted out its transportation services in 2019 after the school board wanted to privatize due to rising costs of retirement benefits and bus prices.

“I would suggest to anyone to ask. If you don’t, you will never know,” she said of working with a contractor. “I questioned some of their processes because I did not understand why they wanted something done a certain way. Make sure that you understand how things get billed back to the district. Being able to understand that side of the operations took some time.”

She added that because her contractor is smaller, it is easier to work with.

“I feel that if we had gone with one of the larger private companies, things would have changed more,” she shared. “The company we use had one other location near us and now has seven districts around ours. I think that every district has a slightly different contract. This company has been willing to work with various districts to fill the need they were looking for.”

Top 5 Transportation Services That Districts Contract Out:

1. McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act/out-of-district transportation
2. Special education transportation
3. General education transportation
4. Van service
5. Dispatching

Additionally, Schomisch said she talks to her superintendent and relays any concerns to the company.

“The district relies on me to keep them informed of happenings within the company,” she said. “If I have a concern that I feel has not been addressed adequately, the superintendent will contact the company and they will work out a solution. The company is really good at allowing me to run my department as I need. Transportation is a constantly changing environment.”

Adam Johnson, the executive director of transportation at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, advised doing research and reading all the available information, especially when looking to go electric. Charlottte-Mecklenburg contracted with Highland Electric Fleets to help with the electric transition.

“Certainly, involve all the players in your district whether it’s legal, procurement, anybody that would be a subject matter expert on contracts,” he said. “All districts are different. But I think the main thing is to go slowly and make informed decisions.”

Please select the statement that best explains your school district operation.


52% We don’t contract any of our transportation operations
25% We contract out some of our transportation operations
14% Not applicable
9% We contract out all of our transportation operations

(Out of 122 responses to a recent STN reader survey.)

He advised setting expectations early and letting the third party know what the needs of the district are and the routes that are run.

“I think probably what everyone’s most concerned about is the distance that the buses will be able to run on a charge,” he said. “And then you know how long it would take the buses to recharge midday between the morning and afternoon routes. So, making sure that you have that open communication and honest communication with the vendor upfront, to know how will they be able to support that with the infrastructure that they’re supplying and the chargers that they’re supplying is probably critical to making the making it a successful deployment.”

Read more about the different type of contracting models used by Farewells Area Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in the April issue of School Transportation News.

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