Ishpeming schools may privatize busing services

MEYER

ISHPEMING — The Ishpeming Public School Board of Education unanimously approved sending out a transportation request for proposals at its regular meeting on Monday.

The RFPs are an early step in potentially privatizing busing for the district.

The board heard presentations from Lamers Bus Lines Inc. at its October meeting and Checker Transport of Marquette working jointly with Dean Transportation from the Lansing area at its November meeting.

Checker currently provides transportation services to North Star Academy, while Lamers provides busing services to Calumet-Laurium District Schools and the Houghton and Hancock public school districts.

IPS Superintendent Carrie Meyer said during the board’s November meeting that the request for proposals will include information about the buses the district has and about routes they cover.

“We’ll do it that way because neither company wants to disclose what they are looking at before a formal process,” Meyer said.

According to budget information, the IPS district currently pays about $380,000 for busing services.

The board also heard the results of an audit for the 2016 fiscal year.

Anderson Tackman and Co., PLC accountant Michael A. Grentz presented the information to the board.

Gentz said the total net position of the school district is negative $4.8 million, largely due to $9.6 million in unfunded pension liabilities.

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board implemented changes in 2012 in reporting requirements for schools and municipalities that took effect in 2014, requiring that public entities include unfunded pension liability in their annual budget, instead of as a footnote.

Unfunded pension liability is the obligation to the retirement system for all current and retired employees into the future.

Without the pension liabilities, Gentz said the budget looks much healthier.

“You would actually have a net position of $4.7 million,” Gentz said.

According to the audit, the projected general fund balance was $232,798, but the district actually made a $210,000 gain in its general fund, with a final balance of $443,271.

The fund balance still decreased by $172,794 from its position at $616,065 at the end of 2015.

Gentz said while he could not point to one particular part of the budget that contributed to the improvement, overall, the district has shown a pattern of improvement.

“When I see this, it makes me think that administration and the board are doing a great job of conservative budgeting. Budgeting conservative revenues, which means projecting less revenue than what you think is going to come in and conservative expenditures, which means you budgeted for more expenditures than what actually came in, which is kind of where you want to be,” Gentz said.

One of the other concerns that Gentz expressed is the percentage of fund balance to the overall district budget.

Gentz said the district should have 10 to 15 percent of annual expenditures in its fund balance. The current balance of $443,271 represents about 5 percent of the district’s $8 million operating budget.

“It should be right at about $800,000,” Gentz said.

IPSB president Geno Maino said while the district still has work to do, it has come a long way from being in deficit just a few years ago.

“From where we came from to where we are is miraculous, when you think about it,” Maino said.

Enrollment in the district went down from 721 students in fiscal year 2014-15 to 690 in 2015-16.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-486-4401.