Lose your choices and pay more

We recognize that the San Francisco Unified School District is between a fiscal rock and a hard place with a projected $13 million shortfall next year and some $40 million of state funding cuts looming. But that is still no excuse for sticking The City’s hard-pressed middle-class parents with yet another add-on fee.

The SFUSD Budget and Business Services Committee is examining a fare or reducing service to save money on the traditional yellow buses transporting students to and from school each weekday.

Admittedly, operating these free buses is an expensive proposition for the district.

It costs the SFUSD $20.5 million per year to provide buses for 4,600 students — many of whom live across The City from their assigned schools. This ridership total does not include the 1,600 disabled students for whom the state requires bus service. California transportation funds reimburse only $8.2 million, leaving $12.3 million for the SFUSD to carve out of the same budget that must pay all other classroom expenses.

The district has alreadydetermined it would be legal to charge a school bus fee of up to $3.85 per trip. A more feasible $1.50 fare would raise roughly $910,000, which seems a drop in the bucket as compared to the $12.3 million funding gap. The San Mateo High School District is among the other California districts already charging a school bus fee — $360 for a year of round-trip transit.

One might ask why the 4,600 school bus riders do not just take Muni. Actually, more than four times as many already do. Some 20,000 Muni youth passes are purchased each month. These monthly passes cost $10 for youths age 5 to 17 — only 50 cents per ride. But due to Muni routing limitations, without direct school busing, it would be impossible for a school such as Galileo High in the Marina to be attended by its students assigned from the Sunset and Richmond.

Because of the court-ordered diversity mandate, San Francisco parents do not have a real choice of school assignments. Families living near a high-demand school might well be forced to send their children far across The City to another school. If the SFUSD cannot accommodate all students who prefer to attend their neighborhood schools, it should not add insult to injury by making them pay for forced busing.

Raising children in wildly expensive San Francisco is a challenge that many families already opt out of, moving elsewhere in the Bay Area and leaving The City with a less balanced quality of life in their absence. San Francisco should be going the extra mile to try and retain these families that will maintain The City’s future, instead of shortsightedly nickel-and-diming them out of town.

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