Wednesday Jun 10 2009
Is this the end of the big yellow bus?
By: Martin Ward, Guest columnist
On Friday, May 29 the governor released his revised proposed budget. He noted that these are difficult times and the proposed cuts will hurt. Buried in the proposal is a 65 percent cut to the school bus transportation apportionments, a cut that has had little publicity. Statewide school bus transportation apportionments cover 43 percent of the cost of operations. For Mid-Placer, approximately 53 percent of operating expenses are covered by the apportionment. Parent pay for bus passes or ticket cards covers 2 percent of operating expenses. Families that qualify for free or reduced lunch programs also receive free or reduced-price bus passes as required by the education code. Mid-Placer is a joint powers agreement formed by school district members to provide their transportation. Mid-Placer is a not-for-profit company. The expenses remaining after apportionments and parent pay are allocated back to our member districts. The member districts use their general funds to cover these expenses. A 65 percent cut is $1.5 million, or equal to the entire driver wages and benefits. The added impact to already strapped schools is significant. For example, if home to school transportation services were to continue without change, the Placer Union High School District will need to pay an estimated $1,088,000 from its general fund for transportation. School districts are not required to provide home to school transportation. A 65 percent cut means school districts will need to make even more difficult decisions, including possibly eliminating home to school transportation. Rural district students like Loomis Union School District and Placer Union High School District will be impacted most by the elimination of home to school transportation. There are few good walking paths, parents will need to provide transportation and congestion on roadways will increase. Cutting apportionments 65 percent, on top of requiring school buses to be retrofitted with diesel particulate filters, or replaced by 2013 at a cost of $2.7 million for Mid-Placer, may be spelling the end of the big yellow bus. The bus has a stellar safety record and is the safest form of transportation. Full buses provide economical transportation and lessen traffic. Steven Rhodes at the School Transportation Coalition reports that Rick Simpson, chief of staff for the assembly, stated flat out that they were going to adopt the governor’s proposal on the school transportation cut — 65 percent. No public vote is needed. This is a cut, not a budget bill so the governor cannot blue pencil items to make changes. The big yellow bus is at a crossroads. Silence from our community will mean acceptance of the proposed 65 percent cut and acknowledgement that school districts will have to adjust. If home to school transportation is important, and I think it is because it gets students to school and provides for buses that are also be used for sports and activity trips, you need to call, fax, email or write your representatives and tell them how important the service is to you and your community. Time is short. The assembly and senate want to finish by June 15. Martin Ward is the CEO of Mid-Placer Public Schools Transportation Agency.