With tighter budgets and fewer resources to draw from, many school districts have been forced to find more ways to trim the fat. One expense that has made its way to the chopping block in more than one district is transportation. While school buses have always been a given where students live too far to walk to school, that commodity is no longer a freebie for all school districts. In an effort to balance the books, schools are deciding to charge students for the privilege of riding a bus to and from school. However, the decision is accompanied by complaints and irate parents in most of the districts when the fees are announced. We’ll take a look at both sides of the pay-to-ride issue.
Franklin Township Now Outsourcing Transportation Needs
Franklin Township school system has been hit hard in the pocketbook with an $8 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year. Instead of firing teachers and increasing class sizes, the school began charging parents to let students ride the bus to and from school. The charge for school bus privileges won’t be cheap – according to a report at the Indy Channel, the fee for bus service for a single student will be $475 annually. Additional children in the same family will get a discount, paying $405 per year for the same bus privileges.
The bus fee was on the table for the school district last year, but the idea was rejected after Attorney General Greg Zoller issued an advisory opinion that a fee for transportation would be unconstitutional, according to the Indy Star. However, when voters turned down a referendum in May, an additional budget shortfall led the school district down a path to get around the constitutionality of the bus fee. The district decided to outsource transportation to an outside non-profit, the Central Indiana Educational Services Center. The organization bought around 75 school buses from the district for $1 and agreed to provide transportation to students within the district at cost. At this point, Franklin Township is the only school district in Indianapolis to make such a decision.
The choice to charge for school bussing comes with plenty of controversies. Parents have turned out in force at town hall and school board meetings to protest the decision. At a town meeting at the end of July, 200 parents and taxpayers showed up to ask the school why they chose such a budget-cutting measure. Taxpayer Christina Bailey asked members of the school board and state lawmakers at the meeting, “When does the waste stop and common sense kick in?” Some parents also wanted to know why the school did not choose to tap into a $14 million emergency fund to cover the transportation costs, rather than making parents foot the bill.
Sarah Wiley, another concerned taxpayer, chose to point the finger at state legislators, rather than the school board. At the same meeting, she asked lawmakers, “I want to know how you expect us to do more with less when you all voted against schools? You voted for charters and vouchers that took money away from us.”
Despite the widespread concern, Superintendent Walter Bourke said he believed he did the right thing for his schools, especially when it came to conserving the district’s emergency fund. Bourke told the Indy Channel, “Quite frankly, the easy thing to do is spend that money the next five years and retire, but I can’t do that and sleep at night. There’s no other school district in the state impacted by property tax caps the way we are.”
This video reports on rising student transportation costs.
Texas Students Face New Bus Fees, Colorado Students get More of the Same
In Keller Independent School District, parents are facing a hefty fee to ride the bus or find another mode of transportation. According to CBS DFW, Keller parents will have to pay $185 each semester for a first child to ride the bus and $135 for a second child. Children who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program will be charged a discounted fee of $100. After initially nixing the idea of a monthly payment plan, the district has relented and will allow parents to pay their bus fees on a monthly basis. However, students will have to carry identification cards that show whether fees are up to date before they will be allowed to board a school bus.
Superintendent of Keller James Veitenheimer tried to allay parents’ fears that bus service would no longer be available in the district. He told Keller parents, “There will be buses. They just won’t be free.”
Veitenheimer also told CBS DFW, “We’re excited that we’re going to have a transportation option for students at all, and feel very fortunate that our partners at Durham and Radiant were able to help provide another payment option for our families.”
However, parents are not as pleased as Veitenheimer about the situation. Jennifer Rosenthal, a Keller parent who attended a meeting to protest the decision, told CBS DFW, “Had we known there was not going to be an option to get our kids to school, we’d have bought a house right next to the school.”
Charging for school bus service isn’t anything new for Douglas County Schools in Colorado. This district broke the news of bus fees to parents at the beginning of the previous academic school year and is continuing the practice this year. With a major budget shortfall, the district explained in a Denver Post article last year that transportation costs were eating up a large portion of the annual budget.
Big yellow school buses will still be on the streets tomorrow, but their free cost may just be a phenomenon of yesterday.
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