WatchSonoma Watch

School districts face hard decisions on bus service


Faced with steep budget cuts during the past few years, Petaluma City Schools has significantly reduced its home-to-school bus service. Now interim Superintendent Steve Bolman said he is unsure how much more the district can cut.

“We do know that a number of districts have eliminated it totally, even rural districts,” he said. “We haven’t started those conversations, but the discussion is going to begin.”

And not just in Petaluma after Gov. Jerry Brown this week announced a 50 percent cut to bus funding as part of his plan to slash $1 billion from California’s budget.

Petaluma is expecting to lose $434,185 when the cuts are enacted in January.

Rhonda Bellmer, Superintendent of West Side School District in Healdsburg, said transportation costs already outpace what districts receive from the state, so the cut announced Tuesday means a deeper dip into the general fund.

“It’s a cut to transportation, but if your transportation is underfunded, you might as well call it a cut to the general fund,” she said.

West Side, a 175-student district that stands to lose about $20,000 in the new round of cuts, may consider dropping all but the federally mandated transport of special education students and instead reimburse families for getting their children to school, Bellmer said.

“We are a rural district. It’s a hardship,” she said. “For some families, getting their child on that bus makes all the difference as far as reliable, dependable attendance at school.”

And attendance means revenues for districts. Making it harder for students to get to school could come back to cost districts even more money.

In Windsor, eliminating bus service would be “devastating,” according to Superintendent Tammy Gabel.

“We are not going to eliminate home-to-school transportation in the district. Although we haven’t ruled it out, we are not interested in that at this point,” she said.

That leaves other programs prime for cuts, she said.

“We are going to have to make other cuts and the question is, ‘What’s left?’” she said.

Part of what makes the inclusion of transportation in the cuts announced Tuesday unusual is that districts throughout California have wildly divergent reliance on busing to get students to school, said Denise Calvert, deputy superintendent for the Sonoma County Office of Education.

“It’s so unequitable across districts,” she said.

Los Angeles Unified on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Gov. Brown and other officials over its potential loss of $248 million in transportation funds.

For Santa Rosa’s Associate Superintendent Doug Bower, the issue over buses isn’t entirely financial.

“It’s a safety issue, frankly, too,” he said. “A lot of our boundaries have pretty congested roads or freeways in some cases between neighborhoods and school. Walking is problematic in some cases.”

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

11 Responses to “School districts face hard decisions on bus service”

  1. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    Looks like the Cotati-Rohnert Park School District has been way ahead of the curve. There has never been bus service, or at least not in the last 25 years or so, except for the city buses and the special-needs school buses.

    If you think it’s a short walk for all the students to get to school, there is only one middle school and one high school for the entire city.

  2. Follower says:

    The squeeze is on. First we have to pay extra for fire service, septic upgrades & now school busses, what next? Roads, since it takes more asphalt to drive to your home outside the city?
    If the “plan” is to get all the “poor” people out of the country & suburbs and cram them into the cities, we are well on our way.
    Soon only “rich” people will live outside the tenements and all will be well with the world.
    I’m not one for conspiracy theories but the whole Agenda 21 thing is becoming increasingly difficult to refute.

  3. Kay Tokerud says:

    Having no school bus service is another way to get people to move in off the land.

  4. GAJ says:

    No worries; the SMART train will take care of everything.

    Man do we have our priorities mixed up or what.

  5. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Dan W-yes someone paid for the free bus rides. My parents did with their taxes, along with all the other parents of children who used the bus when they paid their taxes. Now families WHO ALREADY PAY TAXES OF ALL KINDS, are being levied for bus travel, along with parcel taxes for school. Fund raising in school by CHILDREN to provide more funds. Our taxes are going to more important things LIKE WAR AND TAX BREAKS FOR THE RICH.
    I want my taxes to go to services like education and healthcare and safety nets. I don’t want my taxes to go to paying for billion dollar contractors in Iraq replacing our soldiers (our soldiers are cheaper and more effective), or war in Afganistan, Pakistan and so on. I don’t want my taxes to go to tax breaks for the rich whose companies need educated workers so they should pay their fair share.

  6. Dan W. says:

    Your free bus service was not free. Somebody had to pay for it. In the United States we pay $11,000 per year, tying us with Switzerland, for most K-12 spending per student in the world. That being said, your tax money is going to educating children of this country. It is just squandered by the Department of Education, the State Department of Education, and your local school district before it even sees your kid’s school. Write congress and ask them to keep spending for congress locally.

  7. Frank says:

    yuuuuuup, when i went to school the Yellow bus stop at one location, everybody within a mile had to walk or get dropped off by the parents. Today, the bus stops every 100 feet to pickup the school kids in my neighborhood, but wouldnt have this problem but for all the rules and regs and Moonbeam signing of laws that hurts industry
    its happening here in Sonoma county as well but the PD and this site don’t want you to know aboutit.
    so if you want school buses then protect the landowner and taxpaper

  8. Social Dis-Ease says:

    As long as we’re on the ICLEI program,
    everything we hold dear will be artificially inflated, privatized, subsidized or eliminated.

    The money will go to:
    installing hardscape engineered to contain us.
    Or into the hands of ‘public-private partners’ or ‘stake-holders’.
    Redevelopment, ‘Smart’ Train, ‘Smart Growth’, etc..

  9. brown act jack says:

    In an era when everyone was working and the were lots of dollars flowing into the government , the cost of buses was easily covered.

    I went to High School in San Diego, and walked about 5 miles to school, or rode my bike, or drove my car when I got a car when I got my license.

    My first car was 9 years old and cost me $12. But you could buy a 12 year old car for $3 or $5.

    Now you find that the parents don’t want to have the kids walk to school as they are afraid of the boogie man getting their kids.

    It is healthy for kids to walk to school, or ride a bike.

    In grammar school, I had to 12 blocks and cross a main highway, and I was lucky at that time because skate scooters were in fashion, and my parents let me ride my scooter to school. Powered, of course, by my feet.

    If you live within 3 miles of a school there should be no bus service for your children. In my opinion, that is!

  10. Money Grubber says:

    Who needs school buses ?

    The state needs those funds to pay for all those military style helicopter raids on those evil pot growers of the north state.

    Gotta pay for all those cool black cop uniforms, those cool black military style cop helmets, those cool military assault rifles they tote around, and all that overtime pay they rack up as they hold press conferences and photo ops showing them in “action.”

    Guess you all are just going to tell your kids to walk to school.

    Governor Jerry Brown advises: buy your kids an umbrella and quit sniveling.

  11. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    This is ridiculous. When I was a kid we lived in the country and we had FREE bus service. Otherwise we wouldn’t be in school. It’s always been part of the school budget. Not everyone lives within walking distance of a school. Children in the country rely on bus service.

    The school districts now charge for bus service. In my grandchildren’s school district it is $180 per year which is a great hardship for his parents to come with.

    I grew up in a poor, small school district. We had bus service to school, all the games out of town, field trips (which were free). We had musical instruments we could borrow from the school. We had PE, and music, and chorus, and home ec, and art, and driver’s ed. All the sports were offered. Schools in other civilized countries offer all these educational opportunities. Private schools do too. I pay my taxes and I want my money to go to educating the children of this country and not to 4 wars and tax breaks for the rich.