Where we were:
In October 2013, Topeka Public Schools began our journey with Trip Direct. To understand the value of the solution, we had to learn and comprehend our current transportation process. I spoke with each school’s Athletic Directors and activity Directors to see how schools went through the request procedure. I found that there are significant differences between High Schools, Middle Schools, and Elementary schools.
The existing state of the trip request process was laborious and paper-centric. Each school was required to fill out a three part paper form. This form was used to write up a request for a specific trip that was needed by that school. The school coordinators that made these requests had to fill out a form for each trip that they requested. Finally, the forms made their way to district transportation department via interoffice mail.
This was a very slow process. Requests frequently got lost or misplaced. There are times when a request was denied due to buses being unavailable. In this situation the requester was required to resubmit the request using the same long, paper process.
Trip Direct seemed to be a great solution that would help us improve the speed with which we could process all requests. That seemed to be the best selling point to our Transportation Supervisor and to our School Board.
Under the existing process, driver’s filled out their trip information and turned in the documentation to the Transportation department once trips were completed. Transportation staff would calculate the trip cost per mile, the amount to pay the driver and miscellaneous fees. The total cost information was put on a excel spreadsheet for each trip listed for a school. Transportation staff would update the cost spreadsheet monthly with the completed tickets information.
Our District finance team required that the Transportation Department create a fiscal year trip cost excel spread sheet for each school. They were asked to log trip costs for each school. The district finance team also required that Transportation submit a monthly copy of each schools excel spreadsheet to the District finance team and also to the schools for verification. Unfortunately, due to the large amount of manual labor involved, there were several times where reports were not sent out to the schools as requested. To complete the trip request process each year, the Topeka Public Schools District finance team reconciled the costs for each school for the entire year. After the final school year reconciliation the final spreadsheets were again sent to all the schools by Transportation. This final effort was to eventually get all the school accounts back to a zero balance for that fiscal school year.
Where we are:
Fiscal school year 2013-14 was our first full year using Trip Direct. The way we gathered cost information for each trip was time consuming and we chose not to maintain the “Cost per Trip” in Trip Direct. We had each school capture costs by-hand for each trip on an excel spreadsheet.
Halfway through the year I was reviewing and reconciling trips between Trip Direct and each school’s excel spreadsheet. I found a significant difference between the number of approved trips in Trip Direct and the number of trips with costs in excel spreadsheet.
Upon sharing this information with our Transportation Supervisor, we decided to make a change. The shortcomings of the current process were very evident, but it was determined to be impactful enough to demand a change midway through the school year. For the rest of the 2013-14 school year, we captured all cost information for all scheduled trips in Trip Direct.
Continuing into the current school year, we will enter the pertinent cost information into Trip Direct. If the trip is using one of our school buses we will capture the mileage, hours, tolls, and any miscellaneous fees incurred by our drivers. Trip Direct captures total cost for us based on the cost per mile and hourly wage for the drivers + Fees. If the trip is contracted out to a private contractor we just enter the cost as a fee.
We plan to make sure that all schools know the costs of each trip and reimburse the Transportation Department to balance their accounts this year. In our old excel spreadsheets, some trips were never documented. It was obvious to me that under this old system the district was losing money. The Administration was not aware that they were not collecting fees back from the schools. Meanwhile, my research showed that the schools were similarly unaware they had not reimbursed the district for certain trips.
It is impossible to say how much was not paid back in past years. Transportation will now be able to do a better job of reconciling costs and collecting reimbursement for all trips going forward.
Starting this fiscal year we have multiple automatic reports sent to key departments on the fifteenth of each month. Each School’s fiscal YTD cost will be sent to our administrative cost personnel and each School will receive a copy of their own fiscal YTD cost report. This information might be confidential because of it nature; but we are taking a step in the right direction to being more efficient with this process by using the power of Trip Direct.
Where we want to be:
The speed at which we are able to track trips and associated costs has changed the way we approach the trip scheduling process. This change has occurred over the course of just one full school year. Now we want to bring the changes full circle. Looking to the future, the goals for our Transportation Department include further increasing our efficiency and more effectively capturing the power of reporting.
For our district, the central administration incurs the initial costs for any scheduled trips. Each school then reimburses the district. We could see additional time savings for both school activity directors and our central finance office if these transactions could be processed virtually. Ideally, we will be able to connect trips directly to our accounting system to track trip costs, total reimbursements, and associated payments in real time.
Armed with this data, we will be able to plan for future trip expenses throughout the year by tracking costs over time. Ultimately, this will impact our budgeting process at both the school and district level. We are excited to find new ways to continuously improve our trip scheduling process, especially when that means cost and time savings for our distric