HOUSTON — About 2,000 more students at Spring Independent School District (ISD) will have the option of riding the bus to school next year, district officials announced on Tuesday.

The transportation expansion is a result of the Spring ISD board of trustees’ decision to increase the district’s eligibility zone for school bus service. The district currently uses the Texas limit of 2 miles from school. Starting with the 2015-16 school year, that will change to 1.5 miles from school.

The move will provide bus service for more than 900 elementary students, 800 middle school students and 250 high school students, in addition to the 13,800 students currently being served.

In 2011, facing deep budget cuts due to the state’s reduction in school funding, Spring ISD reduced bus transportation for students from a quarter-mile to the 2-mile state limit.

School districts are reimbursed by the state for a portion of the cost of transporting students who live 2 miles or more from their school. The cost of transporting students who live within 2 miles must be absorbed by the district.

“Our district was one of only a few school districts in Texas that used general funds to cover transportation costs within the 2-mile state limit,” said Rhonda Faust, Spring ISD board president. “The board has since consistently looked for ways to reinstate bus service within the 2-mile limit. The option we approved tonight will help us get closer to where we were, and that is a step in the right direction.”

District officials said that student safety will be improved when fewer students are walking to and from school and more students are riding on school buses. Also, traffic congestion will be reduced in neighborhoods and at campuses during student drop-off and pickup times.

The cost to Spring ISD for the first year of implementation will be $3.6 million. That includes the purchase of 20 new school buses at about $110,000 each, the hiring of 18 additional drivers, and operating costs for fuel and maintenance.

Director of Transportation Keith Kaup said that his department looked at ways to use existing resources as much as possible when developing the plan they presented to the board.

“Because there is existing route service in many areas, through some creative shifting, we can pick up some additional students on existing routes and save some cost,” Kaup said.

“We believe it is feasible to scrub the budget to appropriate $3.6 million that will bring the busing radius in to 1.5 miles,” Faust added. “The cost to revert to the quarter-mile limit would be $13 million, including the purchase of 99 school buses, and would require the community to pass a bond.”

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