That Crazy Mr. White

We need to change the mindset around transportation for our schools. Once school districts began charging families for bus service, they no longer looked at busing as a service to the community. They now see it as a revenue source that is generating a loss. We need to accept that busing will never be able to pay for itself. The fee for riders would have to be so high that no one would be able to afford it. Before we eliminate busing we need to fully evaluate the value to the community.

Schools in Beaumont have been designed for busing. As we are already seeing, eliminating busing increases traffic and decreases the safety of our children. Times are hard enough for our families without increasing gas bills and adding stress to parents navigating our traffic to get their kids to school on time and themselves to work on time. Some parents drop off kids at more than one school.

We are finding out there is a cost to our city and school district to redesign the streets around our schools to accommodate for the increased traffic and to address the safety concerns as more parents drive their families to school. Before our school board completely eliminates busing, they need to ask two questions. Is the cost for busing worth it to our community? And... Could our city, as a service to our community, share in the cost? I think the answer to both these questions is yes.

In the last board meeting, we were told the cost to the district for busing was about $922,000. What we weren’t told was that $700,000 of the total cost was for Special Education transportation services. Transportation for Special Education students is required by law and can't be eliminated. Therefore, if we eliminate home-to-school busing, the district will only save $222,000. That may seem like a lot but it’s only a little more than the salary our board approved when they extended the superintendent's contract last year.

Here are the numbers I received in a prompt response from Mr. Elatar:

Category State Funding Received Total Spent Excl. Bus Replacement General Fund Contribution
Home-to-School $244,080 $466,586 $222,506
Special ED $96,090 $796,190 $700,100
Total $340,170 $1,262,776 $922,606

 

I also learned: 

  • There were 435 home-to-school riders
  • Only about 25% of these riders paid the full rate to ride the bus, the rest received a free or reduced rate.
  • The district rate is $200 for annual service and $100 for a sibling.
  • There was an average of 28 home-to-school riders per bus and a large school bus can hold 45-55 students.
  • With almost no additional costs, we can double the number of students riding the bus
  • By my calculations, the district is only receiving $20,000 in fees.  
  • Full buses would probably increase the district’s average daily attendance, or ADA. A higher ADA means increased revenue from the state. 

This information tells me we can fill up the buses with very little additional cost. It also shows me, if we lowered the fees enough to fill up the buses, the final cost to the district will remain about the same. Is the safety of our kids and a solution to the city’s traffic problems worth the salary of our superintendent? I’m sure you know my opinion, what’s yours.

My Proposal

At the next school board meeting, I plan to make a formal request to the board to add an item to the agenda of a future board meeting. The agenda item will ask them to consider bringing back free busing for one month, the month of February 2012. Here are the specifics of what I will propose: 

  • Free bus service for all our students.
  • Use some of our community parks as bus stops for our kids who live within a mile of their schools. 
  • Use our elementary schools as super bus stops for our high school and middle school students. 
  • Actively promote this month of free busing to our community. 

If after a month of free district wide busing, we don't see a dramatic improvement in the traffic around our schools or we don't see a significant increase in the amount of our students taking the bus, I will support eliminating the service. If, on the other hand, traffic around our schools is light and our buses are full, I will make it my goal to have the district reinstate busing for all students and I will ask the city to take the money they were going to use to redesign the streets and contribute it to the district's transportation budget.

In order to convince the board to consider a free month of busing, there will need to be a significant show of support at the board meeting when this item is discussed. If I go this alone, and I will if I have to, it will be easy for them to dismiss me as "That crazy Mr. White". It isn't necessary for you to speak, just show up. There is another benefit to full service busing I think we need to consider. If Beaumont were to offer free busing along with the excellent schools, more families will want to make our city their home; that's a good thing  for our depressed housing market.