Budget cuts hit home

Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher
Posted on June 1, 2004
At a recent school board meeting in my hometown, police and fire personnel were summoned because a crowd of parents and teachers not only overflowed the meeting room, but spilled into the hallway and outside the building entrance. They were also waving signs, chanting, passing around petitions and generally behaving like soccer moms doing a fair imitation of anti-war protesters.

What generated this unusual turnout and extraordinary fervor? Nope, it had nothing to do with school transportation. These partisans were protesting a plan to increase the size of kindergarten classes from 20 to 30 students and to cut 1.5 hours from daily class time. If approved by the school board, the proposal would save the district approximately $200,000 during the 2004-05 school year.

OK, so what’s this got to do with school buses? Also on the budget-cutting agenda was a plan to cut $200,000 from the school transportation budget by eliminating busing for athletic trips at the district’s four high schools. In all, there were more than two dozen proposed budget cuts that the board hoped would save $2 million in the next school year.

Classroom vs. school buses
What do you think happened? The school transportation spending cut was approved, as was almost every other proposed reduction. Meanwhile, the kindergarten proposal was held over for “further discussion” at a future meeting. The fact that so many loud and passionate parents showed up for the meeting obviously influenced the board’s decision.

I should add, however, that it wasn’t just the unruly protest that swayed the board. Before the meeting, the board and superintendent received dozens of letters and phone calls from parents of children who will be attending kindergarten this fall. In fact, I was one of the parents who wrote a letter to the board and to the local newspaper, which published it the day of the board meeting.

That’s because my older son will be attending kindergarten this fall, and I don’t want him put in a class with 29 other children. I understand that budget shortfalls require sacrifices; I just don’t want them to affect my family, especially if there are reasonable alternatives.

As an advocate of the use of school buses, I feel slightly guilty for not also writing a letter to the board on the possible consequences of eliminating busing for high school athletic trips. We all know how much safer school buses are than automobiles.

Although I didn’t protest the school transportation budget cut, others should have. How about the parents of teen-age athletes? Aren’t they concerned for the safety of their offspring?

You provide the spark
School transportation officials need to be in the middle of this mix. They need to enlighten parents, coaches, teachers, administrators and board members about the outstanding safety record of school buses and the relative dangers of all other modes of transportation to and from school and school activities.

School boards across the country are sharpening their red pencils because of budget shortfalls. No one is happy about having to make budget cuts. But how much is a student’s life worth? Better to ask that question in theory than in practice.

If the school board can find another way to cut $200,000 to maintain the 20-student kindergarten class size, it could also find a way to preserve $200,000 for athletics transportation. But an organized campaign would need to be mounted.

That campaign would likely start in the bus compound. You need to crusade for every dollar that your school district is willing to make available, even if it means writing letters, rallying parents to attend board meetings and putting pressure on the administration at every opportunity. I know, like you don’t have enough to do.

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