School board considers changes to southern peninsula bus routes

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board will decide in June whether the bus route scheduling for southern peninsula schools, including Homer, Anchor Point and Ninilchik, will change, said KPBSD Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones at a Tuesday meeting at Homer High School. 

Any changes to bus routes will go into effect for the 2017-2018 school year. The upcoming 2016-2017 school year’s transportation schedule will not change, Jones said.

“If there are changes, what our intentions are ... we’re going through a process to involve students, parents, community members, staff, all of those people, in the process of change and that’s why we’re here a year early,” said Jones, speaking to a group of Homer parents, school administrators and school board members who attended the meeting. “We’re not here to say, ‘we’re making changes and this is how we’re doing it.’ We’re here to work with the folks.” 

Southern peninsula schools are currently on a one-tier bus route, which means there is one bus per route. However, central peninsula schools are on a two-tier bus route, which means that one bus covers two routes. 

Instead of schools starting and ending at relatively the same time — nearly all Homer schools start at 8:30 a.m. and finish between 3 and 3:15 p.m. — schools on the central peninsula have staggered start times. For instance, one bus can pick up high school and middle school students and deliver them to their school by an average start time of 7:45 a.m., and then go back to pick up elementary school students who start school around 8:45 a.m. High school and middle school students finish their day about an hour earlier than elementary students as well. 

If the school board decides to change the bus routes for southern peninsula schools, a committee will be formed of parents and school teachers and staff to contribute ideas on how to make the change a smooth one and to increase communication between the community and board, said project facilitator and Tustumena Elementary principal Doug Hayman.

Although daily cost per bus continues to increase, revenue for student transportation is no longer increased due to state financial concerns. In addition to daily operating costs, the district anticipates needing to add two buses for special education students due to a rising number in need of transportation. 

Federal law requires that the district provide special education bussing to all students with an Individualized Education Plan that states a need for transportation.

Each regular education bus costs $94,899.10 per year, while each special education bus costs $125,883.60 per year, according to the presentation given by Jones at the meeting. 

The southern peninsula schools have a total of 18 bus routes — 15 regular education and three special education routes — and 18 buses that operate on those routes. Central Peninsula Schools have 52 routes — 36 regular education and 16 special education routes — and 26 buses operating those routes. 

Since two-tier bus routes reduce the number of buses needed, it reduces the overall transportation costs in the KPBSD budget. As of the 2016-2017 school year, KPBSD’s transportation budget will operate at a deficit of $140,592 if the same number of buses are used. If the district adds the anticipated two special education buses, the deficit grows to $392,358. 

If no change is made to the current transportation budget, the deficit will widen by $100,000-$200,000 each year over the next five years, according to Jones. The projected deficit for the 2020-2021 school year with the two special education buses is $1,038,317.

The deficit for the 2016-2017 school year will be covered by excess funds that are not sustainable to use over a long period of time, Jones said. If the one-tier busing routes remain on the southern peninsula, the funds will have to come from somewhere. For instance, cuts elsewhere in the budget to accommodate the transportation costs could affect classroom size and student-teacher ratios in the future.

“In these financial times, spending more every year so that Homer has the current busing situation isn’t ideal,” said District 8 Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education member Liz Downing.

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

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