DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - June 29, 2007

Trustees say no to continuing school busing in the district

Vote is 3-2 following discussions on finances and safety

by Jordan M. Doronila

Trustees gave the OK at their meeting Tuesday evening to stop busing for regular students because the program was losing money.

Trustees Paul Gardner, Joan Buchanan and Rachel Hurd voted for discontinuing the program in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. Trustees Bill Clarkson and Greg Marvel voted against the decision.

More than 50 parents packed the district office in Danville, and they expressed dismay and shook their heads over the board's decision. They gave reasons to keep the program.

"It will reduce traffic, congestion and pollution," said Julie Peck, a parent in the district, adding, "It's a safety issue."

"We have to do what's best for the district," said Gardner. "We said three years ago we would keep it if it would break even after one year. It's now three years, and it still doesn't break even."

The district has three 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 to the district, and home-to-school busing runs into the red at approximately $287,000 each year, Bush said.

Increasing fees is not enough to keep the program self-sufficient, district staff said. Board members said only a small percentage of students in the district are in the program and suggested meeting and working personally with the parents to answer their needs.

"We did our best with our staff on what was fair and accurate," said Hurd.

"I do believe school busing is safer," said Buchanan. "It's good for the environment. But as a trustee I'm charged to (make decisions) on what's best for the district."

Buchanan noted that the funds saved from the busing program will help other programs, which will impact a greater number of students, such as the San Ramon Valley Reading Project and the Math and Science Initiative.

Clarkson and Marvel said accepting the loss in exchange for keeping students safe is the central reason to keep the bus program. Having busing also helps decrease pollution and alleviate traffic in the San Ramon Valley, parents said.

"The issue is, do you put children at risk for $75,000 to $150,000?" Marvel asked. "My answer is no. The safety of children is paramount to me."

Marvel and Clarkson said it may be possible that the district could receive money from Measure J, which is funded by a house sales tax to alleviate traffic. Marvel and Clarkson both sit on the Measure J Committee.

However, Buchanan and Gardner said, based on talks with city council members and staff in Danville and San Ramon, that it is unclear whether the district will receive money from Measure J.

"They told us if we had to eliminate it, we would not affect Measure J funding," said Buchanan, noting that she spoke to Danville Town Manager Joe Calabrigo, Councilwoman Karen Stepper and Mayor Mike Shimansky.

"Don't use Measure J (as a reason) to keep this program," Gardner told Marvel. "It's not a valid issue right now."

Superintendent Rob Kessler said the district has worked with County Connection on bus routes that pass by some schools. Additionally, the district encourages carpools, which is supported by the Town of Danville and the city of San Ramon. Parents and students can sign up for carpools at registration.

Additionally, Kessler said Bush and staff have developed an online system where parents can sign up for carpooling.

Contact Jordan M. Doronila at jdoronila@DanvilleWeekly.com

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