Getting to class more difficult, expensive for county students

The school bus appears to be headed in the direction of the dinosaur for students at the largest high school district in the county.

After eliminating several bus lines last year, the San Mateo Union High School District is eliminating two more this year in what they describe as an unfortunate but necessary belt-tightening. The lines being eliminated this year take students to Aragon High School from Foster City, and will save the district about $100,000, said Liz McManus, chief business official for the district.

The students who ride the handful of routes thatremain will find themselves doling out more cash for the privilege. Until last year, buses cost 50 cents each way, or a total of $180 a year if a student were to make a round trip every day.

But last year the school district implemented a school bus-pass program, requiring students to pay $385 for an annual bus pass, which looks like a red, laminated, wallet-sized card. This year, that price will go up to $442.

Aragon High student Tom Havin, 15, would be glad to pay it rather than have his bus line eliminated and have his family’s routine thrown into chaos.

The junior, an athlete who plans to take three honors classes this year, said it would be incredibly inconvenient to take SamTrans bus lines because they don’t go directly to his school. Instead, he said, his parents will adjust their work schedules to bring him to school in the morning, at least until he can start begging rides from friends.

He’ll also be working on getting his driver’s license. Once he gets that and begins driving to school, he’ll have to pay hundreds for a parking permit, plus hundreds more for insurance.

“I had to pay $360 for a year of bus rides, but now it’s going to be $70 every time I fill up the gas,” he said.

About 80 to 90 students currently use the lines that will be eliminated, said Mike Palmer, the district’s director of facilities, maintenance, operations and transportation. When asked whether there may be more bus line cuts in future years, he said there aren’t many left to cut.

“We don’t have a heck of a lot of regular bus lines left,” he said.

Foster City City Councilmember Linda Koelling said she understands the need to balance a budget, but hopes the district will figure out ways to accommodate the students, particularly because of rising fuel costs.

“With the degree of awareness of climate change plus the cost of fuel, I would venture to guess there would be more students out there wanting to ride the bus,” she said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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