Some school buses face budgetary ax

In an effort to keep budget cuts away from kids in the classroom, San Francisco’s cash-strapped school district has put its bus services on the chopping block.

The San Francisco Unified School District spends about $21 million annually on bus rides for about 6,000 of the district’s approximately 55,000 students, according to district documents.

Faced with ongoing shortfalls in state funding and increasing costs, the district’s Board of Education has talked about trimming those expenses for several years.

About one-third of the money comes from the general fund, which is also used for such classroom costs as books and teachers, according to district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

Last year the board initially voted to cut $1 million from the bus service budget, but later scaled back the reduction to only $300,000, which eliminated three bus routes and cuts to some other stops.

Board members decided to wait before making further cuts because the district’s school assignment process was slated to change, which could affect bus routes.

The redesign effort for student assignment, which was expected to be finished by now, has been delayed.

Additionally, the district faces a $61 million deficit over the next two school years. Board member Jane Kim said the district needs to make cuts now.

“I don’t want to wait,” Kim said. “It’s not a lot of students who get a great amount of transportation funding.”

Furthermore, some board members — including Kim, Jill Wynns and Rachel Norton — have expressed concern that the current service is not efficient. The district spends about $15 million of the $21 million on transporting about 1,500 special needs students — a state-required service.

Since families can apply to any school in The City, transportation management has a difficult task, sometimes busing students from houses in one part of The City to another, Blythe said.

Paul Stein, a representative for the bus drivers union, United Transportation Union Local 1741, said transportation budget cuts could ultimately mean lost jobs, longer bus rides and fewer stops.

Ruth Grabowski, a district parent and a member of the board’s Parents Advisory Council said board members need to give parents ample time to prepare for any changes because bus services make all the difference to many children.

“Economically disadvantaged areas don’t have as many opportunities as other areas that are well-off.’’ Grabowski said. “Not having some services puts people at risk.’’

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

 


 

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