Baldwin school board approves fee for in-town busing service
The Baldwin school board voted Monday to end free daily bus trips to and from school for in-town students.
The measure, approved with a 5-1 vote with Board President Nick Harris voting no (board member Sheryl Gill was absent), doesn’t end in-town busing but establishes an annual fee of $75 per in-town student for the service.
The change was one of a number of cost-cutting measures the board considered as it looked ahead to a 2013-2014 budget with no increase in state per pupil funding.
The state reimburses school districts for providing bus transportation to those students living 2.5 miles or more from their attendance centers.
Cynde Frick, district financial director, said the revenue from the fee could raise $10,000 a year, depending on how many parents paid the fee for their children. If enough parents opted not to pay, the district could save by reducing the number of bus routes, she said.
It’s not the first time the issue has been before the board. The board received a recommendation in April 2011 from a transportation committee of board members and administrators that the district end all in-town busing. At that time, it was said the measure would save the district from $20,000 to $30,000 per year.
That recommendation prompted a public meeting on the proposal, and in the end the board decided against changing the policy. But the recommendation resurfaced a year ago during budget discussions, when the board again left the policy unchanged but warned that a continuing budget crunch could cause it to revisit the issue.
Discussion of the issue Monday again focused on the safety of elementary students living north of U.S. Highway 56 having to cross the highway when walking to the two primary centers near the western city limits and the absence of sidewalks along sections of the highway and other city roadways.
“Personally, I can’t vote for charging for in-town busing until we have a way to get students to school safely,” Harris said.
Superintendent Paul Dorathy acknowledged there was considerable opposition voiced two years ago when ending in-town busing was first proposed.
“Patrons had strong feelings we shouldn’t end it, but the final thing they said was ‘if you have to charge me, do that but don’t cut it out,’” he said. “That’s why we’re going in this direction.”
The majority of board members agreed the budget squeeze made the change necessary. They expressed hope the board’s action would prompt the city and other jurisdictions to take up the board’s call from a year ago to start studying additional sidewalks and trails as part of a safe-route-to-schools initiative.
In voting for the fee, board member Chad Christie said he didn’t like implementing another fee for service but agreed with board member Bill Busby’s observation that it was a voluntary fee families didn’t have to pay.
Dorathy said those students eligible for reduced lunches would pay only half the fee and those receiving free lunches would not be charged.
The superintendent also informed the board that Douglas County was studying student traffic flow to the primary schools. That study, which he said was possibly being conducted in conjunction with the Kansas Department of Transportation, would be the a needed step toward getting safe-route-to-schools grant funding, he said.