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October 28, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

School boards on busing challenges, successes

In this roundtable, board members from four school districts share insight on the struggle to maintain school bus services in the face of funding shortfalls.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author

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© Brammer

© Brammer

In our previous roundtables this year, four transportation directors shared their perspectives on pressing issues in the school bus industry.

After talking with those directors, SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon posed transportation-related questions to a board member from each of their school districts.

A common thread running through the board members' responses is the struggle to maintain school bus services in the face of funding shortfalls. They also discuss parents' feedback on and perceptions of their district's transportation program.

The roundtable participants are:

● Martha Fluor, trustee for Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., and president of the California School Boards Association.

● Rick Kimball, board chair for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore.

● Tom McJury, vice president of the school board for Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District.

● Liisa Reid, school board chair for Greater Albany (Ore.) Public Schools.

If you missed the roundtable discussion with the transportation directors, go here for part one and here for part two.

Rick Kimball, board chair for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore.
<p>Rick Kimball, board chair for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore.</p>

SBF: What do you see as the top issue for your district's transportation program right now, and what is the board doing to address it?

TOM MCJURY: The top issue is the cost. We're suffering significant revenue cuts from our state. We've chartered Peter [Lawrence, Fairport's director of transportation] with looking for any efficiencies or economies of scale that he can attack to try to save money. So that's the big thing.

We just voted to implement full-day kindergarten, so we have a transportation savings there of between $70,000 and $80,000 a year, which is very positive.

Peter just does such an efficient job of all the routing and everything else. Everything is going really smoothly. I feel fortunate that we don't have any other major issues to deal with.

MARTHA FLUOR: The challenge this year for California's school districts as well as across the U.S. is for transportation to continue to be provided at no or low cost to our families. With many of California's 1,000 districts located in rural and remote communities, the simple act of getting to and from school is daunting. Many of our districts and their transportation staff go the extra mile to ensure a safe route to school.

Given the tough economic times, school districts are being forced to make very difficult decisions regarding this transportation. In some instances, this may mean the consolidation of routes, passing the increased costs to parents or the elimination of home-to-school transportation altogether. Board members and district staff must work to develop efficient and effective transportation policies and regulations that continue to meet the needs of our students as well as maintain the fiscal soundness of the district.

Our challenge, and the transportation department's challenge, is to continue to increase our support for learning while facing continued economic challenges.

Liisa Reid, school board chair for Greater Albany (Ore.) Public Schools.
<p>Liisa Reid, school board chair for Greater Albany (Ore.) Public Schools.</p>

RICK KIMBALL: There are two main issues facing our district for transportation: The first is the uncertainties surrounding fuel costs. The second issue is how to deliver similar levels of service during this unprecedented economic crisis. The superintendent has asked the transportation department to review bell times for potential savings, stop major purchases such as bus and computer hardware replacements, and limit spending to the base essentials required for home-to-school transportation.

Additionally, our district has adopted a quality assurance model for the delivery of our services, and we are proud of our attainment of ISO 9001 certification. At an exit interview following a recent ISO certification audit, our transportation department in particular received high praise from the auditor.

What do you hear from parents about the transportation program?

LIISA REID: The top two things that we hear from parents are concerns about the safety of their children on the bus and concerns about the time spent on the bus. There is a third concern that we hear from community members, which is why the buses are not full.

The board views student safety as our top concern, and most recently we have asked the transportation department to investigate cost-effective methods for ensuring students, particularly young students, are dropped off at the correct stops. Other dimensions of safety are driver safety and behavior issues on the buses. While the last two have not risen to board-level concerns in recent memory, the board does support driver training, safety equipment on buses and is aware of efforts to address behavior issues through extending behavior programs from the school day to the bus ride.

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