Chicago-Area School District Privatizes Student Bus Service

Published June 1, 2007

One of the largest public school districts in Illinois has decided to hire a private company to run the district’s student bus services.

Community Unit School District 300 serves nearly 19,000 K-12 students in 13 communities in northwest suburban Chicago.

School board members acknowledged problems with transportation management before voting 5-2 on March 11 to accept a bid for a three-year $7.5 million contract with Durham School Services beginning in the 2007-2008 school year.

School officials say the contract will save the district about $2 million over the three years.

The action came as a result of a multimillion-dollar transportation budget deficit and evidence of over-billing from private cab companies for transporting special-needs students.

Durham School Services provides student transportation services across the United States. The company is headquartered in Downers Grove, Illinois, west of Chicago.

$2 Million in Red

“Currently, the District 300 transportation fund is about $2 million in the red–a number that has doubled over the previous three-year bus driver contract,” said the district’s financial officer, Cheryl Crates, shortly after the vote.

“The district currently does not have the expertise to solve the transportation problems itself,” board member Mary Warren told the Courier News newspaper the night of the vote. “Three years ago, the [current] contract was planned to erase the deficit.”

Warren pointed out the existing school district contract with its own bus drivers cut starting salaries for new drivers and protected the salaries and benefits of more experienced ones. An unintended consequence, she said, is that few new drivers apply to work at the district, and among those who do apply, most of them get training in District 300 and soon go to work for other school districts for more money and benefits. As a result, the district is loaded with long-time drivers who receive relatively high pay and benefits, raising transportation costs.

Drivers in Hiring Process

Durham School Services Vice President David Duke said the company may hire many of the school district’s current drivers.

“People who are in the school bus business are usually people who care for kids,” Duke said, adding they also know the children, the community, and the roads. “And it is important for us to retain that knowledge and skill set. Well before school is out we’ll have met with [all] those folks and taken them through a hiring process.”

$5,000 Cab Rides

District 300 also is investigating questionable billing for transporting special-needs students who do not ride buses.

According to a report on, District 300 has used “cab companies to transport special-needs students to facilities outside of the district,” and the cost for those services has reached “nearly $1 million a year.”

The current cab company billed District 300 for 965 rides last December, totaling $81,506–a cost of $84.46 per ride. There were just 16 school days in December, so the district was billed $5,094 per day for those rides.

“The December cab bill will not be paid until the irregularities are cleared up,” said Superintendent Ken Arndt.

John W. Skorburg ([email protected]) is a visiting lecturer in economics and finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago and associate editor of Budget & Tax News.

For more information …

“D300 bus contract goes private,” The Courier News, March 13, 2007,,3_1_EL13_A3D300_S1.article