Jan 18, 2011 7:24 PM by Zach Thaxton

School bus service options: Privatize? Make riders pay?

The Falcon School District 49 transportation department must quickly come up with a solution for preserving bus service in the district following last week's decision by the D-49 school board to eliminate funding for the department.  They don't have to look far for ideas.

Some of the options being considered are hiring a private company to provide bus service, implementing a fee-for-service program, reconfiguring numerous bus routes to maximize efficiency, asking voters to approve a bond issue or mill levy, or a combination of all options.

Douglas County Schools implemented a fee-for-service policy several years ago after an uproar when 40 bus routes were cut amid a funding crisis.  Transportation Director Paul Balon says parents supported a fee-for-service plan to help restore those routes.  Parents are charged $0.50 per ride for their students, or $1.00 per day.  If a student rides the bus both to and from school each and every one of the 173 days of the school year, the maximum charge to a family would be $173 per student per school year.  Balon says the fees will generate around $2 million this school year.  "I feel very, very strongly that it has done everything that we've asked it to do," Balon said.

Four Colorado school districts contract out bus services with private, for-profit companies, including Pueblo County School District 70 and Woodland Park School District RE-2.  "The whole Woodland Park school system has never had its own bus service," said John Thomasson, General Manager of Durham School Services.  Durham is being paid roughly $1 million by the Woodland Park School District to handle all transportation services for the district, including hiring of drivers and fleet maintenance.  Durham charges the district for each bus run during the 163-day school year.  Charges vary depending on the route and type of bus used.  "There are a lot of things that we believe we can do that are more cost-effective than a school district can do them," Thomasson said.

In addition to contracting out for bus service, the Woodland Park School District also charges parents a $50 annual fee for students to ride and changed many bus routes last year.  Superintendent Jed Bowman says it's an efficient model that works for his district.  "We've reduced some of our service, we've implemented a fee, and the district has subsidized the rest," Bowman said, "so we do kind of have a three-legged stool on funding for our buses."  However, Bowman admits the changes have proven to be a difficult pill to swallow for some families.  "When you have three generations of families that have always had a bus stop in front of their driveway and now we say, 'You have to walk a half-mile or quarter-mile,' that's a big change and that was really hard on our families."


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