D65 moves to replace taxis for special ed students

The Evanston District 65 Finance Committee Monday night recommended that the School Board hire an outside firm to replace 303 Taxi to transport students who don't walk or ride buses to school.

Raphael Obafemi, chief financial and operating officer, said that an increasing number of students are taken to school by taxi at a cost of $750,000 this year, with the possibility of reaching $1 million next year.

Obafemi said that taxis are used to take special education students to school in district or out of district -- some as far as the Indiana/Illinois state line, or to transport students who have behavioral problems on the school bus or who take classes at Evanston Township High School.

Taxis are also used for parents who have no other means to get to school meetings or to transport McKinney-Vento students.

Obafemi recommended using Zum Services, Inc., a California-based company similar to Lyft or Uber that provides trained drivers to provide student transportation.

Unlike ride-sharing companies, Zum provides consistent drivers who are trained in special education needs and protocols, he said. Drivers will be licensed like school bus drivers to transport students in Illinois.

Zum uses a dashboard to provide real-time tracking of rides for the district and for schools, with an app available for staff, parents and students to do the same.

Obafemi said the district should see a savings of at least 15 percent based on the pricing negotiated with Zum.

Obafemi said Zum serves about 150 districts mostly in California but is trying to move into Illinois and is in conversation with about 20 districts including Chicago Public Schools.

Finance Committee Chair Joseph Hailpern asked if the district could keep using Taxi 303 and use Zum for part of its needs.

Obafemi said the district plans to start this summer, using Zum for about 25 percent of transportation needs and perhaps move to 50 percent next fall.

Board President Sunith Kartha asked why taxi costs have gone up so much and what has been done to cut those costs.

Obafemi said that the majority of taxi rides are for special education students. The transportation is written into students’ Individual Education Programs and the services must be provided by law.

The Finance Committee voted 3-0 to send the proposal to the full board.

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