Danville Express

Newsfront - June 8, 2007

Trustees debate keeping school bus program

District transportation is operating in the red

by Jordan M. Doronila

The school bus may stop June 26. Trustees will decide on that day whether to keep buses in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District to transport students to and from school. It appears the majority of them feel it would be best to stop the program because it is losing money.

The district has three main bus transportation programs: special education, field trip, and home to school, which carries students to and from school each day. Special education receives revenue annually of $639,943; field trip, $175,612; and home to school, $191,901, said Mike Bush, district chief business officer.

But both special education and home-to-school programs operate at a loss, and home-to-school busing runs into the red at $277,386 each year.

"I will not vote to continue the program at a deficit," said Trustee Joan Buchanan. "We do not have on-going funding sources for programs such as the Reading and Writing program or the science and math initiative."

"So while I support home-to-school transportation in principle, as a trustee charged with making decisions for the entire district, I cannot vote to spend this money to supplement 1 percent of our population when the other programs benefit all students," she added.

Trustees Rachel Hurd and Paul Gardner also expressed discomfort over the program operating at a deficit, at a school board meeting last month.

"I view home-to-school transportation as something I'd love to offer," Gardner said. "I don't know if it's a top priority. We don't have the funding."

"I'd love to keep it, but I don't think we can afford it," he added.

"As I said repeatedly, I am in favor of continuing the district's home-to-school transportation if it can be self-supporting using the limited transportation funds received from the state and parent-paid fees," Hurd said. "I am not in favor of continuing to subsidize it because I feel strongly that the district has more important priorities that benefit all students."

However, trustees Bill Clarkson and Greg Marvel disagreed, and said they favor continuing the program.

"I do not favor discontinuing the bus routes," Clarkson said. "Yes, they lose money, but the problems we create in stopping them outweigh the costs."

Marvel echoed Clarkson's sentiment.

"I believe it's safer for the kids to get to school," Marvel said. "It helps eliminate congestion at school sites. I'd prefer kids on school buses than on sidewalks."

He also said using the profit earned from the field trip program will help offset the costs of home-to-school transportation.

Approximately 1,200 out of 25,000 in the district use the program. The following schools transport students on buses: Tassajara Hills, Rancho Romero and Sycamore Valley elementary schools; Stone Valley, Diablo Vista and Charlotte Wood middle schools; and Monte Vista High School.

Several years ago, the state decided to stop funding the home-to-school busing. The district decided to keep the program by subsidizing it through parent fees, said district spokesman Terry Koehne. But it was not enough to cover the program's expenses.

Dozens of parents using the busing program have attended board meetings and met with district officials, urging them to keep it alive. Some expressed frustration with the district for not coming up with enough solutions if it takes the program away. They said it would be difficult for them to go to work and drop their children off at school. At times, meetings between parents and school officials regarding transportation have been contentious.

Bush said increasing fees is not enough to keep the program self-sufficient. Hurd noted only a small percentage of kids in the district are in the program and suggested meeting and working personally with the parents to answer their needs. In addition, carpools may be a viable option, she said.

The San Ramon Valley will receive around $40 million from Measure J in 2009, which is funded by a house sales tax, to alleviate traffic. Hurd said the Town of Danville is interested in using Measure J funds to lessen congestion, and it also is considering using small buses to pick up students from school and senior citizens during the middle of the day.

Despite differing opinions on the board, the trustees and school officials agree the program is valuable.

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