As we monitor media outlets from all over the country to see what they have to report on pupil transportation matters, we’ve been coming across a lot of bad news lately.
A back-to-school story topic that popped up in many newspapers is about how the local school district has scaled back its transportation services this year.
In some cases, walking distances have been increased. For example, children might have to live more than two miles from school to be eligible for a bus ride, whereas before it was 1.5 miles. In other cases, the number of bus stops has been significantly reduced.
A report by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) earlier this year gave an overview of what districts are facing. Seventy-five percent of administrators who responded to the survey described their districts as “inadequately funded.” That percentage increased eight points since October 2008, when 67 percent of administrators described their districts as such.
The AASA study asked what actions districts were taking in response to the economic downturn for the 2009-10 school year compared to the 2008-09 school year. Many of the findings are unsettling. They include:
The percentage of districts increasing class size more than tripled, from 13 percent in 2008-09 to 44 percent in 2009-10.
The percentage of districts laying off personnel quadrupled, from 11 percent in 2008-09 to 44 percent in 2009-10.
On the pupil transportation front, the percentage of districts cutting bus routes and availability rose from 14 percent in 2008-09 to 23 percent in 2009-10.
Finding the positives
While that last statistic may seem gloomy at first glance, we can also use it to look on the bright side: More than three-fourths (77 percent) of the districts that AASA surveyed are not making transportation service cuts this year.
A reader poll on our own Website covered similar terrain. We asked pupil transporters how their 2009-10 operations budget compares to last year’s. As of this writing, 69 percent of respondents had said that their budget was the same as or larger than last year’s.
The Brownsville Herald in Texas offered an example of a district that’s not trimming bus service. This year, the newspaper reported, Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) will spend $15.4 million of its $493.1 million budget on student transportation. That’s an increase of 7.7 percent from the 2008-09 school year, when the district spent $14.3 million.
BISD is even providing bus rides home for students who stay for after-school tutorial sessions. Interim Superintendent Brett Springston told the Herald that school buses are part of the district’s success.
My point here is not to downplay the fiscal crises that so many school systems are experiencing, but rather to provide more perspective on the pupil transportation picture.
For districts that have had to make transportation cuts, Peggy Burns’ article in this issue gives excellent guidance on identifying and fixing potential legal issues related to cost cutting.