School Business Affairs February 2019 SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS | FEBRUARY 2019 19 options have increased in recent years, but it’s important to recognize that alternative student transportation is still student transportation . The alternative transporta- tion solution may not include the “big yellow school bus,” but the provider must still be held to the highest standards when it comes to safety, performance, opera- tional visibility, and control. Alternative Transportation Scenarios In the alternative student transportation model, tradi- tional school bus service is replaced or supplemented by a plan using smaller-capacity vehicles such as vans. Moving away from the “bus as the only vehicle” model provides districts with benefits in terms of finances and flexibility. When districts no longer have to pay for unused bus capacity, they have the flexibility to manage a vehicle fleet to accommodate ever-changing student populations. Alternative transportation can also help districts pre- pare for the unexpected. During the 2017–2018 school year, the greater Houston, Texas, area was severely impacted by Hurricane Harvey. In December 2017, alter- native student transportation services successfully routed and transported more than 650 affected school children to 77 different schools across the Houston area. Throughout the 2017–2018 school year, alternative transportation providers transported 151 unique student passengers—including multiple students riding in the morning or afternoon only—to and from 77 different schools, including 40 schools with only one student in attendance. Due to the fluidity of the situation and the fact that many families had to relocate often between shelters and other temporary housing, more than 900 transportation requests to add/drop students, change pickup location, etc., were accommodated. Although the traditional bus transportation model was unable to serve this McKinney-Vento population that mushroomed practically overnight, the alternative stu- dent transportation model was able to offer some relief. Utilizing alternative transportation also lessens the impact of a bus driver strike, which can be particularly pronounced for special needs students and their families, and the fallout over transportation disruption can bring up legal issues for school districts. Case in point: In October 2018, a school bus driver strike in Providence, Rhode Island, created havoc for the family of a 12-year-old pupil with cerebral palsy. When his wheelchair-accessible school bus didn’t show up to take him to school, the family—who was with- out a car—was left without reasonable transportation accommodation. The scenario attracted the attention of the Rhode Island ACLU, which claimed violations of federal law. Delivering Cost Benefits Plus School districts must provide transportation to ensure students with special needs and circumstances receive a proper education; however, budget is a very real factor. Since the 1980s, the cost of student transportation has increased by an average of 75% per student. Meanwhile, dedicated state funding has dwindled, forcing districts to spend a growing share of local funds on transportation. For many districts, this means diverting funds that could otherwise be used to pay for teachers, materials, and other education-related resources. Alternative student transportation can deliver a strong cost-savings benefit and help resolve these budget issues. On average, many school districts can trim their transportation costs 20–30% with alternative student transportation. However, the right alternative student transportation can offer an even more compelling value proposition: reduced costs and improved service levels that can provide priceless peace of mind for districts, stu- dents, and their families. When it comes to transporting students with special needs, “one size does not fit all.” Each student’s unique needs must be properly accommodated. This starts with ensuring the student is matched with the appropriate vehicle, and that each vehicle is efficiently routed. This not only reduces costs, it minimizes the amount of time each student spends in transit. GPS technology-verified, time-stamped pick-up and drop-off times provided by many alternative student transportation models supports improved accountability and an additional level of comfort and safety. When serving children with special transportation needs, not just any driver will do—compassion and respect are crucial. Those driving school vehicles must be fully qualified and capable of addressing each stu- dent’s unique challenges. Drivers must be able to support students who are wheelchair-bound and/or medically fragile, as well as children with behavioral disorders and those whose Individual Education Plans (IEPs) dictate they must ride alone in the vehicle. When it comes to transporting students with special needs, “one size does not fit all.”