Jan 14, 2011 8:14 PM by Zach Thaxton

D-49 officials: preserving school bus service still possible

Falcon School District 49 officials say there is still time to preserve school bus service in D-49, but money to fund it may need to come out of the pockets of district residents and parents of kids who ride the buses.

In a packed, highly-contentious school board meeting Thursday night, board members voted unanimously to eliminate funding for the $3.6 million D-49 transportation department to help cover an expected $4 million budget shortfall for the coming year.  Opponents say that will put students' safety at risk if bus service is halted and students are forced to walk to school.  Supporters say it will spare cuts from the classroom.

Falcon D-49 spokesperson Stephanie Meredith says there are several options for preserving school bus service in the district:  contracting with an outside vendor to provide bus service, implementing a pay-for-service model wherein district residents would pay a fee to have their children ride the bus, or re-drawing bus routes for maximum efficiency.

Another possible option would be asking voters to approve a mill levy increase, according to school board president Dave Martin.  "It is my belief that the board will support a mill levy to try to fund transportation as a last measure," Martin said.  He says the district's current financial situation necessitates drastic measures.  "Today it may be transportation.  Tomorrow it may be extra-curriculars.  When you take that kind of budget hit, you're not going to be able to keep doing things the way you always have.

Meredith says the transportation department is expected to report back to the school board with possible options sometime in March.  Martin says there will be opportunity for public input during that timeframe.  If a solution can't be reached by August, Martin says the district will be forced to terminate bus service and lay off bus drivers, mechanics, and other transportation department employees.


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