Buses continue to stay at districts

Holly Richrath

Families have relied on the yellow school bus for transportation to and from school for decades, but according to an article written by the executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators, all of that could be in jeopardy.

“The yellow school bus may become an endangered species in Illinois considering the 42 percent cut to state funding for public schools transportation in the past three years and the ominous clouds forming over the state’s education budget for next year,” Brent Clark wrote. “No one can argue with the emphasis on maintaining funding for the classroom, but the ability to safely transport children to school remains a basic fundamental of educating students.”

Eureka District 140 Superintendent Randy Crump said while cuts have definitely had an impact, he does not see the yellow school bus leaving the district anytime soon.

“I think we need to continue to provide transportation for students,” Crump said.

The district currently provides 15 morning and evening routes and three noon bus routes. About 1,039 students take advantage of this transportation.

The district, he said, was supposed to receive $451,416 in state reimbursement in fiscal year 2011, but received only $323,907. The following year, District 140 should have received $442,066, but that number was reduced to $341,390.

“Reimbursements are to be received during the fiscal year, but during the last several years payments have been delayed and received in the following fiscal year,” Crump added.  

At this point, Crump said changes have not had to be made to compensate for the loss. However, a change may be necessary in the near future if this trend continues.

“We currently levy a tax rate of .1712 per $100 EAV for transportation,” he said. “We are authorized to levy a tax rate of .20. If state funding continues to be reduced we will need to tax at the maximum rate of .20.”

In Metamora’s District 122 changes have been made in transportation over the years.

“In 1987 (Metamora Township High School) had 14 full-time bus routes,” said Superintendent Randy Toepke. “We are now down to nine full-time bus routes with two handicap/special education routes and one for an alternative school route.”

The last time a route was cut in the district was in the fall of 2008, but a report is currently being prepared for the district’s transportation committee to analyze the possibility of cutting yet another route.   

Currently there are 875 students assigned to District 122 buses, which cover a 95-square mile area. MTHS shares bus routes with Metamora Grade School and St. Mary’s Catholic Schools.

The district owns its buses and employs a bus mechanic, which Toepke said allows the district to keep buses running safely for longer periods of time, delay buying buses as often and build the transportation fund.  

Toepke said the idea of buses becoming endangered in the district has not been seriously discussed at this point, but that those discussions may be necessary in the future.

“This is where the State becomes very frustrating,” he said. “The State grades us on our school report card what our graduation rate is, but then they turn around and talk about cutting the transportation budget which pays to bus students to school.”

He added that a lack in transportation could give students excuses to miss school more often, which would ultimately have a negative impact on the graduation rate and drop the amount the district receives in general state aid.  

“Students need to be at school so they can learn,” Toepke said. “Many parents don’t allow their students to drive on bad weather days and we have a large number of students where both parents work and would not be available to drive their son/daughter to school.”

Proposed changes to transportation funding on the state level include being reimbursed on an efficiency formula based on the per-mile cost.

Another option considered at the state level is eliminating the mandate that districts provide transportation at all.

Charging a fee has also been considered.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate to charge parents for transportation,” Crump said. “Part of the property taxes they pay is for transportation. I think it is the responsibility of the public school district to provide transportation.”

Toepke said charging a fee is not being considered in District 122 at this time, but it is important to be “watchful and frugal of the budget as the State attempts to get their finances in order.”