School bus service slashed in cost-saving move

Thousands of schoolchildren will have to find a new way to travel to school next year after the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education voted to cut bus service by more than 50 percent.

The cuts — which affect roughly 3,300 general-education children in elementary and middle school grades — will be phased in over the next three years and could save the district roughly $1.9 million annually.

It costs the district $100,000 annually to run each yellow bus.

The cuts will not be pleasant, according to Dennis Gardner, a former director of the district’s transportation department who is now consulting on the bus policy.

“There will be hits,” Gardner said. “There will be severe cuts. I want to see money in classrooms, not on four wheels.”

For the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, the district anticipated a $113 million budget gap. District officials, however, said the deficit could be even greater during the next three school years.

There are currently 44 buses serving 59 elementary and middle schools. Bus service might be reduced to 25 buses, according to district staff.

There are no buses serving high schools.

The majority of students who use the yellow buses provided by the district live in the southern and southeast side of The City. An estimated 22 percent of those students are black, 24 percent are Chinese, 24 percent are Hispanic and 11 percent are white, according to district numbers.

As part of the 6-0 vote to approve drastic changes to bus service, district staff was directed to create new routes and eliminate stops. The exact changes to routes are expected to be released in mid-January.

The decades-old school bus system is being addressed because of the new student assignment policy adopted in March. In it, the school board approved a system that would use home addresses when determining placement of children, hopefully eliminating some of the need for transportation.

School board member Norman Yee said his biggest concern is not the students coming into the SFUSD for the first time, but the students that are already enrolled in schools across town from their home.

“Most likely, a third-grader is not going to change schools at this point,” he said. “It’s going to be a major problem we have to be sensitive to.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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