A school bus driver might share a common fate with an umpire in a World Series game.
The public never really notices them until something goes wrong. Apple Bus Co. flew under the radar in recent months as public attention was focused on other aspects of the St. Joseph School District, but all that changed after a Board of Education meeting earlier this week.
Board President Seth Wright outlined a series of concerns about the performance of Apple Bus, the company hired to handle the transport of students to St. Joseph public schools. Wright aired concerns about buses not showing up at their destination on time, buses not showing up at all and the wrong bus being sent to pick up students.
Maybe everyone should have seen this coming in May, when the Teamsters union organized a demonstration to show support for Apple Bus drivers receiving higher wages. The union involvement seemed to portend some troubles after the district contracted with Apple to operate special education transportation services that had once been run in-house.
Apple Bus President Mike Oyster, in a letter addressed to the school board, referenced the ripple effect of expanded special education service but also pointed to broader hiring difficulties as a factor in the recent problems.
The situation has some parallels to the ill-fated switch to Opaa!, another third-party company, to take over food services for the district during the Fred Czerwonka era. This went over like a lead balloon, and the board eventually retreated and decided to hand the reins of food service back to district employees.
With busing, a similar reversal is unnecessary. The district has a compelling interest to outsource noncore functions in order to focus on academics. This was the case with food service in 2015, and it’s the case with busing today.
The reality is Apple Bus was handed additional responsibility at a time of record-low unemployment. That’s a tough task. This district’s leadership is encouraged to work with this company to address performance deficiencies without losing sight of the public’s demand that the school system operate as efficiently as possible.
All this happens as a backdrop to the biggest issue facing the school district right now: a facilities review that will affect the future of the three high schools.
Student transportation remains an important and complicated task whether there are one, two or three high schools. At some point, the school board and district administration will ask voters to consider big changes, most likely expensive changes, to the future of these facilities.
It would be wise to resolve busing issues, while remaining financially responsible, before that day comes.