“The Magic School Bus” is a beloved children’s book and TV series about the incredible adventures of Ms. Valerie Felicity Frizzle’s class on board their yellow transportation vehicle.

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 was counting on another form of magic school bus to pay for the $40 million 5th Ward School … the promise that transportation savings from having kids walk instead of ride to school would magically cover the cost of the 5th Ward building.

But that magical promise turned out to be bogus-pocus, as the transportation savings are now only projected at $750,000 a year, instead of $3.2 million.

The 5th Ward School is being downsized, but 5th Ward School or not, District 65 faces millions of dollars’ worth of other budget cuts in future years.

Transportation is a key area for potential cost reductions, although it’s not easy.

Driver shortages have led to higher pay and retention bonuses.

Back in April, District 65 projected a $10.3 million dollar transportation cost for the current (2023-24) school year, according to a report from Lou Gatta, the district’s transportation services coordinator.

But now, according to that report, the latest 2023-24 expectation has jumped to $12.2 million (including about $1 million from last year to be paid now).

Gatta also outlined a number of cost-saving steps he is or will be taking, including combining a couple of bus routes to test “for timing and efficiency.” If it works out, that would reduce expenses.

District 65 also uses taxis for some special education routes. Gatta says he is receiving bids from a company to move in-district special ed routes back to buses, which “will provide competition and lower costs,” assuming drivers and bus aides are available.

Gatta says he is also using an additional cab company for some out-of-district routes, which will also add competition and reduce expenses.

And finally, Gatta says he is “actively renegotiating our contract and insurance requirements” with a particular company, which, he says “could be six-figure savings.”

If these cost reduction plans come to fruition, it might make a new adventure for the Magic School Bus, as Ms. Valerie Felicity Frizzle takes her children on a fantastic journey through the byzantine world of school finance.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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