Parents upset over halt of school busing in district
Trustees say other programs would benefit more students
Dozens of parents have vented their ire about the recent decision to stop school busing in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
"We are disappointed," said Heather Ridgway, whose two children who took the bus to Rancho Romero Elementary. "It gives me a headache thinking about this."
Trustees Paul Gardner, Joan Buchanan and Rachel Hurd voted at their June 26 meeting to discontinue busing for regular students because it was losing money, while Trustees Bill Clarkson and Greg Marvel voted against the decision.
The district has three bus transportation programs: special education, field trip, and home-to-school, which carries students to and from school each day. Both special education and home-to-school programs operate at a loss to the district, and home-to-school runs into the red at approximately $287,000 a year, said Mike Bush, district chief business officer.
Trustees felt the money lost could be used in other programs that help the majority of students in the district.
Approximately 600 regular students out of 25,000 students in the district have been using the bus but only for the equivalent of 270 full-time riders in the past year, he said. The state paid $51,000 to help fund the program, while the district and parents financed the rest of it.
An all-year roundtrip ticket book cost $410 a year; half-a-year roundtrip cost $235; options just for mornings and afternoons were also $235; and temporary book passes for 20 rides were $35.
Parents said school busing provides greater safety, and alleviates traffic and pollution. Their kids learn to socialize on the school bus, too.
They complained the district did little marketing to get new riders, and they received word about the program's end in the spring, which gave them little time to come up with solutions. Also, they felt the majority of the trustees already had made up their minds about ending the bus program, said Ridgway.
"We feel completely out of the loop," she said. "There was a lack of communication."
Debbie Ahmadi, another Alamo parent who had children being bused, said parents and the district staff sat down in a roundtable discussion in the spring to find solutions to keep the bus program going. She said raising the rider fees and marketing to get new riders were possibilities being explored to get the program out of the red. But then district staff told her there was no feasible way to keep the program running on a deficit.
"We felt the rug was pulled out from under us," Ahmadi said.
The program has been under financial siege for several years, Ahmadi said, and had parents known about the problems earlier, they may have found more possible ideas.
Ridgway said perhaps corporations such as Chevron would help sponsor a bus program, and if this happens, parents can bring it back before the board for approval. Moreover, she mentioned that parents getting together and creating a chartered bus may be another option.
Ridgway hoped the trustees would allow the busing program to continue at least for one more semester, which would give them some time to find viable solutions to keep it alive.
"They are not going to get re-elected," she said, about the board members who voted against busing.
Trustees Hurd, Buchanan and Gardner said the money used for the busing will be used for a reading and writing project and other programs, such as a math and science initiative.
"The New York Reading and Writing Project benefits all students," said Buchanan. "It will cost money to finish implementing district-wide and to maintain the program after implementation is complete."
"We do not have ongoing source of funds for the program," she added. "My vote was to use the savings."
She said the district's budget development begins in the spring, and its analysis about the busing program is correct.
"I do not believe the decision would have been different if we had begun the process earlier," Buchanan said. "I went over the numbers in much detail with staff. I believe they are accurate."
"On an incremental basis, the program will generate a deficit of $200,000 next year," Buchanan added. "On a generally accepted accounting practices basis, the program will generate a deficit of $300,000 next year. These numbers exclude the cost of the bus replacement."
Ahmadi said Measure J, which is a $2 billion sale tax created to alleviate traffic congestion in Contra Costa County, may help finance school busing. Out of Measure J, the San Ramon Valley gets $40 million over 25 years for school busing to alleviate traffic congestion, said Tai Williams, Danville Transportation Services Director. But this money is to go toward alleviating congestion in areas with the most traffic, which is different from what the school district has done, she said.
The school bus program has been at Tassajara Hills Elementary, Rancho Romero Elementary and Sycamore Valley Elementary schools; Stone Valley, Diablo Vista and Charlotte Wood middle schools; and Monte Vista High School.
"It's going to be traffic nightmare," said Ahmadi.