Missing the Bus

Does the article in this morning’s Commercial Appeal about busing in the MCS exaggerate the “huge premium Memphis City Schools is paying to bus schoolchildren”?

Memphis City Schools busses over 10% of its student body and pays some $20,000,000 for it. That’s $1050/student bused per year, or about $5.60 a day for each of the 19,000 students that use the district’s bus contractor.

When you break it down to a daily cost per student, it doesn’t seem like much. It’s more than a round trip on the city bus, but don’t get me started on that whole thing.

When you consider at the total operating budget of the District, which is knocking on the door of one billion dollars ($879M), $20M is a drop in the bucket. In fact, that sum constitutes less than 2.3% of the total budget of the school system.

All of this said, the notion that a contract would not be bid out more than once in 21 years is EXACTLY what’s wrong with Memphis. That we are possibly paying more for busing than Knoxville and Nashville in light of these circumstances is no surprise. Both of these issues need to be addressed before the end of this year to ensure that both the students interests and the taxpayers money are being treated with the care that they both deserve.

What bothers me is that I can’t decide what this story is really about. Is this an attempt to build outrage over the other problems at the MCS, an opportunity to pile on Halbert in light the recent Grand Jury testimony, of is this just a pumped up tabloid piece disguised as investigative journalism?

I don’t really know the answers to these questions, and certainly don’t have a dog in this fight, when it comes to the interpersonal relationships of the School Board members. It would have been nice to see some real numbers contrasting to the cost per student here in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville instead of the blanket numbers given early on in the article and the table at the end. There are other issues to consider, like trip length, route distance, and number of students per route that may have an impact driving up the cost of bus services in the school district.

For instance, if Nashville is busing some 50% of it’s students; there are many factors that could play into a lower cost per student ratio. However, with 30,000 fewer students, the Nashville school system is paying a higher percentage of its total budget than Memphis. Playing with numbers can serve many masters, and the article should have addressed this. In any case, this is to be expected considering the total number of students bused. It also follows that with a greater number of students bused, there is a greater opportunity to make those routes more cost effective. Did anyone think about this? Sure doesn’t seem like it.

Secondly, the question I will ask until the CA stops monetizing content…who paid for the article? How much does an article like that cost, and who do I talk to in sales to get one written? This is not meant as a slap to the author, whose work I have enjoyed in the past and look forward to in the future, but the publisher, who refuses to understand that his paper is not losing readers because of too much staff, but because of too little real local coverage. We can get an AP report anywhere dude, how’s about some more articles that address what’s going on in Memphis and less wire fill.

Finally, while I understand that all is not rosy in the world, I would really like to see some articles about something going right in Memphis. I’m not talking about saving kittens from trees or helping old ladies across streets or anything, but for the love of all that is holy, there HAS to be something good going on in this city. Sure there’s plenty wrong and it needs to be reported, but the sheer bulk of it all is just down right overwhelming.

Here’s an idea, maybe you could trade up and have less Wendi Thomas, and more of something like a list of people who are screwing the city out of money or are general ne’er do wells. That would be good reference material for us bloggers and remove an annoying part of my week.

BTW, who pays for her column?

0 thoughts

  1. No, screw that. We’d just be dependent on them for our material. Let’s sharpen our pencils, really get organized, and we can replace their whole function outright.

    The only reason I’m not doing it right now is because I’ve got my ass in a sling with debt, but that’s not going to last forever.

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