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.
Back to school
- 6News video: School construction project shows progress
- School fees over the years (.pdf)
- On the street: What is your largest expense in sending your kids back to school?
- Hitting the (check) books
- On the move: Construction at West, other sites sets up busy year
- Busing fee helps offset Lawrence district's costs
- Expensive lessons: Stick to budget when school shopping
- The cost of cool: Trendy gear bumps up school expenses
- Gearing up for high school sports
- KU Today 2006
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.
More about busing students
- School fees harder for some to pay (08-06-06)
- Shawnee steps behind 'walking school bus' (05-24-06)
- Chat with Lawrence Public Schools Supt. Randy Weseman (05-17-06)
- Administrators ask state to pay so fewer must walk to school (11-21-05)
- As gas costs for buses rise, school districts feel the pinch (08-16-05)
"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."