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State cuts bus funding for public schools

Small, rural districts hit the hardest
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn-area students may soon find just getting to school is a challenge. Placer Hills Union School District will have to dip $180,000 into its reserves to continue providing buses this year. Placer High School, Colfax High School and Foresthill High School families will find several bus stops eliminated come January. The changes come in the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown’s announcement Dec. 13 that $248 million would be cut in January for home to school transportation. School officials say the cuts will hit small, rural school districts, like those in the Auburn-area, the hardest. Some locals say they are frustrated with the state’s decision to eliminate vital funding for buses. Lack of buses a safety hazard Fred Adam, superintendant of the Placer Hills Union School District in Meadow Vista, said many of his students couldn’t get to school safely without buses, so the district made the choice to use reserve funds for busing until the end of year. “It’s a whole safety factor. Our roads are not designed to have kids walk to school. We don’t have sidewalks or bike paths,” Adam said. “You can imagine how difficult the roads would be to get there safely. It’s my opinion this is targeted at small, rural school districts. Transportation is really the lifeblood of small and rural school districts because the roads are difficult for getting to school.” Adam said 48 percent of students in his district ride the bus. Many of those students live too far from school to walk, or have working parents that rely on buses to get their children to and from school. In the Placer Hills Union School District, the cuts to transportation will amount to $193 per student. Students already pay $120 for a one-year bus pass. Adam, who serves on the Small School Districts Association, said the association was lobbying for a smaller cut for every public school student in the state overall that would amount to about $50 per student. Susan Sutherland, of Meadow Vista, currently has two children that attend Sierra Hills School. She relies on buses to transport her children on the days she works. She said she may have to work something out with a neighbor if bus routes change or are eliminated. “In this district I don’t think kids can walk to school. Hopefully we’ll work out it with my neighbor,” Sutherland said. “(The legislature) just voted themselves a raise and they are going to cut our busing.” Sutherland said she’d prefer cuts be made to school administration than student services. Auburn-area schools all impacted Adam said the state’s decision would probably impact a majority of the school districts in Placer County. The Mid-Placer Public School Transportation Agency runs buses for several local school districts including Placer Union High School, Loomis Union, Ackerman, Colfax Elementary and Alta-Dutch Flat. Rather than raise fees or dip into reserves, the agency is hoping to save enough money to balance the funding cuts by extending its no busing zone from 2 miles to 2.5 miles and condensing some of the routes, according to Martin Ward, Chief Executive Officer of the Mid-Placer Public School Transportation Agency. Del Oro High School routes will not be impacted because their routes were already significantly pared down in the 2008-2009 school year. Ward said the agency issued letters informing students that routes would change after the holiday break. At this time Ward said there are no plans to layoff drivers. “Cutting transportation is misguided. It disproportionally impacts lower economic classes and predominately in the more rural environment,” Ward said. He is afraid in the future schools will have to choose between transportation and basic costs to educate students. Having specific funds for transportation keeps that scenario from happening, Ward said. Michele Schuetz, superintendent of the Auburn Union School District, said this year the district will use $226,748 in reserves to cover the cost of transportation. For now, no changes to routes are planned, but if the one-time cut is extended, Schuetz said the district will have to reevaluate. She said the district opposes transportation cuts because they don’t distribute the cuts to all schools equally. “We are looking at this as a one-time cut. The state hasn’t said it’s ongoing,” Schuetz said. “We are trying to keep everything the same, so it’s the least disruptive to families.” Tax? Redistribute state dollars? Lori Lawson, a bus driver for the Placer Hills School District, said if some buses are eliminated, traffic at schools will also be much worse. The school parking lots were built with the current bus system in mind. “Mostly I foresee our schools are going to have a lot more traffic problems,” Lawson said. Substitute bus driver Manuel Varela has grandchildren that go to school in the Placer Hills School District. While they don’t take the bus, he said still be in favor of paying more taxes to save transportation and give more to education. “I’m in favor of a tax increase. I’m also in favor of taxing everyone across the board and using it just to help the state out.” Valera also suggested some school district employees may be willing to volunteer to have a small percentage of their salary reduced to provide more funding for schools. Bus driver Kathy Holt said she has been worried about losing the job she so enjoys. “Oh yeah. I love my job. I love my kids,” Holt said. “It’ll mean more traffic at the schools.” Linda Cramer, of Meadow Vista, has students in the district, too. She said the transportation cuts are just another example of California public school students losing out. She said she believes too much is spent on running agencies, like the State Board of Education. “A lot of the money California spends on education doesn’t make it to the classroom,” Cramer said. “You could probably eliminate them all together and students wouldn’t notice. You take away a bus driver and a library and kids will notice.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.