Archive for Sunday, August 13, 2006

Busing fee helps offset Lawrence district’s costs

August 13, 2006


In Kansas, school districts are expected to haul - or offer to haul - students who live more than 2.5 miles from their schools.

The state picks up about half the cost.

Districts are free to transport students who live within 2.5 miles of their schools. But if they do, they're on their own. There's no help from the state.

"That's why a lot of school districts - Wichita, Salina, Manhattan - have said, 'To heck with it. We're doing two-and-a-half miles, and that's it,'" said Rick Gammill, director of special operations with the Lawrence school district.

Rather than dropping its under-2.5-mile bus routes, USD 497 in 2002 enacted a busing fee - $240 per rider - to help offset some of the costs.

"We take in about $71,000 a year in fees," Gammill said, "but that in no way covers the costs. It's not even close, and now that gasoline is going to $3 a gallon, that gap will get even wider."

Last year, the district spent $1.9 million on transporting students within and beyond the 2.5-mile radius. The state-aid share: $930,000.

State law prevents the district from charging students who live more than 2.5 miles from their schools. If they choose to ride, they ride for free.

In the district last year, about 1,900 students lived more than 2.5 miles from their schools; 1,200 rode the bus.

Of the 8,000 students who live within 2.5 miles of the schools, about 750 rode the bus.

Not all of these 750 students paid the fee. State law prohibits districts from charging students in special education and those who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

In Lawrence, 30 percent of the school district's 9,900 students receive free or reduced-priced lunches.

"We're trying to provide the most cost-effective option we can for families that don't live within the 2.5-mile area," Supt. Randy Weseman said.

"It's been our position that the 2.5-mile threshold is unrealistic," he said. "We see this as a service."

The district's $240 fee works out to $1.37 a day, round-trip.

That's not cheap. But it's not out of line, either.

Lawrence is the state's seventh-largest school district; Topeka and Salina are sixth and eight, respectively.

Topeka charges $300 per year. Salina doesn't bus students within the 2.5-mile radius.

"We don't offer pay-to-ride, but I've certainly heard from a lot of patrons who want it," said Ken Kennedy, director of operations for Salina public schools.

Kennedy said he hoped to propose a Lawrence-type busing program for Salina next year.

"I have a copy of the Lawrence plan on my desk right now," he said.

It won't be an easy sell.

"I have a lot of people who want it and are willing to pay for it," Kennedy said. "And I have a lot of people who want it, who probably can't afford it but who really need it. It'll have to go to a committee for study."

Olathe, the state's third-largest school district, charges $242.

Olathe and Topeka have a reduced rate for families with multiple riders. Lawrence does not.

Weseman said he's not opposed to coming up with a reduced rate. "It hasn't been seriously discussed," he said, "but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be. It would have to be studied; it'll all come down to how much we could afford to do and still provide the service."

In Wichita, students living within 2.5 miles of their schools are bused if they live in a "hazardous neighborhood," those without sidewalks or crossed by a highway.

"There isn't a charge. The district picks up the cost," said Diane Gjerstad, the district's director of governmental relations.

The district does not bus students - fee or no fee - who live in nonhazardous neighborhoods within 2.5 miles of their schools.

Gjerstad has asked lawmakers to drop the 2.5-mile boundary.

"I've testified every time it's come up over the last 10 years - it comes up about every other year," she said.

The boundary, Gjerstad said, was set in "the early 1960s, back when the state was much more agrarian than it is now, when cities looked a lot different than they do now. It makes no sense."

So far, she said, the initiatives "haven't gone anywhere."

If the state dropped the boundary, it soon would be expected to share in the costs of transporting the under-2.5-mile students.

Kennedy sided with Gjerstad. "It's ridiculous," he said. "Do we, as a state, really expect a parent in 2006 to let their first-grader walk a mile to school - across railroad tracks, across bridges, across busy streets, through certain neighborhoods? I don't think so."


mom_of_three 11 years, 9 months ago

Too bad Lawrence doesn't consider "hazardous neighborhoods." The kids from Prairie Park to South Junior High don't have a choice. It's either by bus, or by car. There isn't a safe road to walk or bike.

Amy Bartle 11 years, 9 months ago

Three buses taking elem school kids to Langston Hughes were eliminated this year because the expansion of Harvard Road up to the school has been completed. So now our neighborhood will have more kids walking, and many more cars driving kids to school. I'm nervous for my 9 year old to walk to school due to the increased traffic, which is compounded by big trucks traveling to and from new construction projects off Harvard. Maybe the empty Lawrence Transit buses could transport the kids left out of the school district bus areas.

MWIV 11 years, 9 months ago

mom_of_three Understand and agree about hazardous neighborhoods, but if they did that, others would scream reverse discrimination.

1lawrencemom 11 years, 9 months ago

I agree with mom of 3--there is no other way for these kids to get to South! The aren't old enough to drive and there is no place for them to walk---cut throught Haskell? Walk along 31st street? Along 23rd? And how long do you think it will take them to walk to school taking any of those routes?

mom_of_three 11 years, 9 months ago

I live 2.48 miles away from South, using the shortest route. Not the route the bus ACTUALLY uses (which would be over 2.5), so I have to pay if my kids want to ride the bus.
I did when my oldest one went to South. Now, with 2 students at South, it is too expensive. My husband and I can usually drop them off in the mornings, but the ride home was trickier. The "T" has been useful to my high school student, and it's possible my junior high kids may be joining her for a ride home.
The "T" could be more helpful getting students home, if they ran down Louisiana(drop off at 23rd), and more often after school was out for the day. It would be much help for those students wanting to catch the east bound bus from 23rd. (yes, those South students in the Prairie Park area who can't walk home)

mom_of_three 11 years, 9 months ago

My South students may also particpate in the after school program, which has been free in the past, and helped with their homework. We had a great experience a couple of years ago, but an awful one last year. I have heard there is a new coordinator at South, so we may try it again. I am able to pick up the kids when I get off work. (as long as I don't have to work late)

Lowell Holmes 11 years, 9 months ago

$1.37 a day? They could ride the "T" for 25 cents each way and that would save the families a lot of money and fill those buses up. I have noticed that many students have already used the "T" in the past. The "T" buses go right by bothe high schools, 3 out of the 4 Jr high schools and most of the elementary schools, so why not arrange for them to ride the already federaly funded city buses and the the school district concentrate on those student who live outside the city limits or too far away from the "T" bus routes.

mechman 11 years, 9 months ago

if usd497 would fire the driver of the se bus that is being used for personal business they might be able to pay to have some more kids bussed to school.......but r.gammill says he has NO problem with her using the bus for personal business.................

zenmon 11 years, 9 months ago

mechman, it was my understanding that LaidLaw is the employer of the bus drivers not the school district so I'm not sure that r gammill has anything to do with it let alone firing someone that is not employed by the district saving money.

mom_of_three 11 years, 9 months ago

Yes, the "t" (just one bus route) runs by Lawrence High school, but at 3:08, when the students are dismissed at 3:05, and impossible to catch the bus. And it doesn't come by again until 4:30. There are some days that time works, but most days it doesn't. So my LHS student will walk to 23rd street, and wait about 30 minutes for another bus.
Yes, the "T' technically drives by the school, but the times don't work for when the students are actually dismissed.

South students have to walk several blocks to catch the bus about 25 minutes after school ends, and then transfer to another bus to take them to the Prairie Park area.
The "t" would "work", but that is a lot of time that the students are waiting for the bus. Again, if the "t" times would correspond with the dismissal times, then the "T" would be a viable transportation option.

Lowell Holmes 11 years, 9 months ago

True, some shuffling of the times and routes could make things run even smoother, but I believe the "T" can be a viable alternative for the school district bus system even wih the current times and routes. Yes some kids might have to wait for a while or walk a block or two to catch a bus but it is comparable with the school busses. I live just 1/10th of a mile inside the limit to be able to bus my daughter. I can see the bus pick up the kids who live at the other end of the block. Most times I take my daughter to south myself, but on some days I need he to take the 'T". She leaves about the same time and gets home about the same time as the school bus kids. Now I realize not everyone is going to have te same situation, it will depend on where you live. If you are at the begining or end of the school bus route your times will be a lot different. But If the school district wanted to work witht the city on arrange routes and pick up times to coincide with the schools I am sure we could same some folks a lot of time and money. I know, I am probably dreaming.

mom_of_three 11 years, 9 months ago

At least the kids who wait for the school busses do so in their neighborhoods. I am concerned about the kids who wait for the "t" several blocks away from the school or a safe place.
It would be nicer if the T ran closer to the school dismissal times, so there wouldn't be such a wait. it could be trouble waiting to happen, either for bored kids or another kind of predator.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 9 months ago

Call The T and ask when the board meets. Attend the board meeting,state your case and that gives the board food for thought. This is how the board can perhaps be more accomodating when suggestions come from the real world. What have you got to lose? Actually it appears as though all have something to gain. Go for it.

Lori Nation 11 years, 9 months ago


Kat Christian 11 years, 9 months ago

So my question is? Where do my school bound tax dollars go, if it is not paying for public school busing? Who is reaping the rewards from this money? Who got the 18% pay increase from this? There are many people who don't have school age children who pay taxes too. Where is that money being spent? If this money was destinated properly there would be no need for parents of school age children to have to pay for their children to ride the school bus. This is wrong and something is wrong in the budget department. Someone needs to investigate this further, don't you think? Public school is suppose to be available to every child free of extra cost beyond the taxes we already pay.

prioress 11 years, 9 months ago

"Where do my school bound tax dollars go?" It's all public record; go look at a copy.

Lori Nation 11 years, 9 months ago

we need to ask our principals and our school board to have legislature pass a new law lowering the requirements for busing students to and from school safely and if you have any questions contact diane gjerstad in wichita she wants to see the state lower the requirements

prioress 11 years, 9 months ago

Now, that's the way to approach the problem. Have the legislature lower the limit to 2 miles for transportation reimbursement and more kids will get bused to school.

Lori Nation 11 years, 9 months ago

this was brought up to the board last night and we finally seen that light bulb go off over their heads. if a party of three were to take a taxi cab to a destination would that company charge 3 prices no you would split the cost 3 ways between the party. Asked that to Mr. Gammill and his response to you would be if you were to fly to a destination would you get discounts on airline tickets. I am glad the board is looking at discounts for next year but Im surprised it wasnt thought of before now. And if it's to dangerous for a crossing guard to work at the Iowa and 23rd location why is it not dangerous for a 5th, 3rd, 2nd grade kids but it's dangerous for the city to put a crossing guard there.

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