COON RAPIDS, Minn. — The Anoka-Hennepin School District has eliminated its $200 bus rider fee for students who live between one and two miles from school for the 2010-11 school year.
The district instituted the fee in 2002 as a way to raise revenue in the midst of more than $10 million in budget reductions.
District officials provided two reasons for its decision to drop the fee. The first is that a demographic change is underway in the district — in 10 years, the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch has doubled. In 1999, it was 16.5 percent; in 2009, it was 30.7 percent.
Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch pay a reduced bus fee or no fee depending on their level of qualification. As more students qualify, the district must provide transportation to them, but it collects less revenue from fees. If this trend continues, district officials reasoned, fees eventually become irrelevant because so few students pay the full fee.
Moreover, the district's transportation department has worked closely with its contracted bus companies and negotiated no increase in the annual contract for this school year (the second freeze in as many years).
With no increase in expenses, the district can restore bus service to its pre-2002 levels and eliminate most adult crossing guard positions. The positions are not needed because buses will transport students across roads that are considered hazardous. This reduction, plus eliminating the cost of collecting fees, offsets the loss of the fee revenue.
"Economically, it makes sense," said Keith Paulson, Anoka-Hennepin School District’s director of transportation. "But it makes the most sense to transport more students safely on buses — that's what elimination of the fees really allows us to do."