School bus service on chopping block


By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

School bus rides will probably be a thing of the past for most local elementary and middle school-grade kids next year. But the school board at the Washington Unified School District is considering a planned cut to bus service in the afternoon leaving from River City High School.

Last month, the board approved a number of budget cuts aimed at closing an estimated $2.5 million gap for fiscal year 2012-2013. They did so by looking at a set of recommendations from their superintendent, who was reacting to cuts in state funding.

One approved cut was to busing service for most K-8 kids in WUSD. Another was for the bus service taking high school kids home from RCHS in the afternoon. Bus service taking to RCHS in the mornings remains in the plan.

DAYTON GILLELAND, Superintendent of the Washington Unified School District (photo from WUSD website)

“The board took action to eliminate K-8 transportation entirely,” Superintendent Dayton Gilleland told the News-Ledger. “We’re moving some school boundaries and we think we can accommodate more kids at their neighborhood school. The board also took action to eliminate afternoon transportation at the high school.”

But, he added, several board members have had second thoughts about that. The board will talk about it one more time at tomorrow’s board meeting.

“I think what’s probably going to stick is (the cut to) the K-8 services,” said Gilleland. “The K-8 transportation piece we have calculated to save $705,000.”

Cutting the high school’s afternoon bus service would save around $199,000, he said. But he wouldn’t be surprised if the board restores that planned service at Thursday’s meeting.

The state of California has clipped the amount of money it contributes to busing kids to school.

“Up until this year, we were funded at about 30 cents on the dollar,” said Gilleland. That amounts to around $300,000 of the million-dollar annual bus tab.

Is this permanent, or will money come back for school buses when the state’s budget picture turns back around in a few years?

“I think it will come back,” said Gillleland. “Transportation is something we would want to restore as soon as we could.”

Some K-8 students would still get WUSD bus service to school.

  “We still have a mandate to provide special education transportation and ‘school choice’ provision,” Gilleland explained. Any student who couldn’t be accommodated at his or her local campus, and had to be bused to another because of “overflow” would also get a ride from WUSD.

The bus cuts could reduce hours for school transportation staff or cause layoffs after this year (the employee union has “expressed concern,” said Gilleland). Most of the buses, though, have been doing duty at staggered times for both K-8 students and high school students, so the district will not be left with a significant surplus of buses.

WUSD faces layoffs next year “unless we get concessions” from employee unions, said Gilleland.
Thursday’s meeting is at 6 p.m. at city hall.

Also on the agenda is consideration of the district’s curriculum for the state-mandated teaching of HIV and AIDS prevention, currently taught in 7th and 9th grades. A representative of a local Russian Baptist church has expressed concerns about the plan.

Families currently have to sign off on HIV/AIDS education programs for their kids, but the planned change would change it to “passive” permission – students would get the education unless their parents actively “opt out.”

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