A bill that would dissolve embattled bus agency Dallas County Schools is one step closer to passing.
The financially-strapped agency has been restructuring debt amid questions into a $42 million budget gap and runaway spending on a school bus stop-arm camera program that cost the agency millions of dollars.
On April 11, State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) presented Senate Bill 1122 to the Senate Education Committee calling for the agency's abolition.
Thursday afternoon, the committee approved SB 1122 in a 9-1 vote. The bill now heads before the full Texas Senate for a debate -- Huffines said that is likely to happen in the week of April 24.
If the bill passes, it would shut down the decades old agency responsible for busing thousands of students in 12 North Texas school districts.
"For far too long, the students, taxpayers, and schools in Dallas County have endured the unreliability, dangerous buses, and financial corruption of Dallas County Schools. The rogue central bureaucracy is outdated and unnecessary, and the Texas Senate took a big step today to bring it to an end. With the abolition of Dallas County Schools, the future will be brighter for Dallas students, taxpayers and schools," said Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), the bill's author, in a prepared statement.
In a statement following Thursday's committee vote, Dallas County Schools said:
"This fight is not over. Prior to today's vote, DCS provided a draft audit conducted by outside financial consultants, to the Senate Education Committee. It states that the agency is financially sound and viable for the future.
"DCS professionals have performed herculean tasks to reorganize the agency, realign its focus to Dallas County and correct deficiencies in the business practices and operations. There is a new Interim Superintendent, business director of finance, transportation director and other operating managers. In addition, the management of the stop-arm program outside of Dallas has been outsourced and the business practices are now following best practices models. It's a stronger district now, and we look forward to presenting the new DCS to the full Senate and the House."
During a hearing April 11, acting DCS Superintendent Leatha Mullins was peppered with questions about the beleaguered agency, some of the most pointed coming from longtime DCS supporter Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) who reminded Mullins he called on her predecessor Rick Sorrells to resign over frustration with the agency's financial problems.
Mullins responded by saying they've been addressing the issues that have frustrated customers and parents caused by people no longer employed by the agency.
Other senators grilled DCS employees about school bus drivers running red lights and racking up hundreds of tickets, issues exposed by NBC 5 Investigates.
In recent weeks, three school districts, White Settlement, Coppell and Weatherford, have all cut ties with DCS and signed contracts with other bus providers. Cedar Hill and Carrollton/Farmers Branch ISDs will vote on its contracts next month. Lancaster ISD has already received several competitive bids for its contract and DeSoto ISD is considering an RFP as well.
Mullins said previously she remains confident that DCS can survive. In February, the Dallas ISD approved a $50 million 17-month contract designed to give the district more power in the relationship while holding the agency more accountable for shortcomings.
"We want to thank the Senator for taking into consideration significant issues for multiple districts to provide alternatives to transport students to school in an efficient manner," said Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa in a statement after Thursday's vote.