MUSCATINE — Monday's Muscatine School Board meeting had a large turnout with about 50 parents and district employees who wanted to urge the school board to retain the district's current approach to transportation. 

"In Muscatine, we know how well the grapevine works," Randy Naber, a former school board member said. "Some comments have come up that have concerned people. There has been a discussion about outsourcing transportation."

In January, the school board requested an exploratory study of the possibility of a multi-district transportation agreement that would contract out services along with Louisa-Muscatine and Columbus Community Schools. The study will look at the feasibility of contracting out the transportation services for all three districts.

The school currently spends around $1.8 million on transportation. With enrollment still in decline, the district has been looking for places where efficiencies can be found. 

Superintendent Jerry Riibe told the Journal in January that the study is an attempt to see what savings were possible through contracting out transportation to companies like First Student Inc. and Durham School Services.

"Any time you start talking about doing something different, the people most involved would be concerned about what that means for their future," Riibe said. "But this is really driven by the need to reduce our general fund expenditures."

Notes from public speakers

Though it may be too early to know what impacts contracting school transportation out might have, several speakers at the board meeting emphasized the need to think about the bus drivers.

"I know that the bus driver is just as important as the teacher, the principal, the administrator, the janitor and anyone else," said Laura Liegious, a parent. "And all those students, they know their bus driver. They are an important part of their lives. (Bus drivers) are people that live and work in our community and we need to support our people in our community."

Lance Wedekind who works on the district's fleet said that there are certain advantages to having a localized, district run transportation department.

"We feel that it is extremely important to have driver consistency to help build relationships with our students and our parents," Wedekind said. "If you look at some of the reviews of these companies, I just don't feel that you're going to have that consistency."

He also said that the district surpasses the services required by the state. 

"We run above and beyond what the state requirement is for busing kids," Wedekind said. "Your privatized district probably won't. I'm concerned that you are going to lose students' riding privileges."

Wedekind referenced new software the transportation department is implementing to make routes more streamlined and decisions on buying and selling less costly. 

"There are 363 school districts in the State of Iowa," Wedekind said. "Out of those, there are 10 run privately. Out of those 10 districts, many are not satisfied with the private contracting for one reason or another. Unfortunately for them, it is too late for them to go back because once their assets are gone, no district can afford to buy 40 buses."