Big changes to school bus routes
School district officials, parents and school board members agree: Bus route changes will save the school district money, but not without compromising the safety of the kindergarten through 12th graders who ride the bus.
The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District board approved a school bus plan Wednesday night that cuts back on bus routes that have historically had few students on board. Both parents and school board members have expressed concerns about the changes, saying students will be forced to walk on unsafe roads without sidewalks in snowy conditions.
“These streets are not set up for pedestrian traffic, especially in the winter,” said Nancee Beals, a parent who lives in Tahoe Donner, where the school bus route was cut to only pick up students on the north end of the Northwoods loop, from Laussanne Way to Fjord.
“I have high schoolers, but if you have a 7 or 8 year old, and the parents work, you don’t have a lot of options,” Beals said.
This is the third straight year of transportation budget cuts in the district. This year’s cuts add up to $256,000 from the department’s $1.8 million budget. Bus routes have been shortened in Truckee and on the Tahoe side of the district, and bus garage supplies and operations have been reduced.
The reason for the cuts, according to district officials, is two-fold: budget cuts and a staffing shortage. In June, the school board asked transportation department to shave 10 percent ” roughly $180,000 ” from its budget. And the school district will start this school year with six less full-time drivers than last year because the district hasn’t been able to hire more drivers, said Nanette Rondeau, director of transportation.
This, coupled with increasing fuel costs, means routes need to be combined and shortened, she said.
“We understand what kind of impact this is going to have on the community. We’re not in favor of it …” she said. “In order to meet the needs of all the areas we serve and the children we serve, we’ll get you to the area you need to go, instead of the streets you live on.”
Rondeau said she hopes to enlist the help of shuttle services in various subdivisions to get students to their bus stops. Also, the transportation department is trying to find revenue sources by charging day care and after-school programs that use school district buses for their services.
Transportation in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is costly. The school district covers more than 700 square miles, and the transportation department receives little funding from the state to provide bus services to students, said school board Trustee Patricia Gibbons-Johnson.
“We have been lobbying to get transportation funds [from the state] increased for rural districts,” she said.
School bus transportation costs the district an extra $1 million that is not provided by the state.
However, funding aside, Gibbons-Johnson said it’s the safety of the students she is most concerned about after the latest round of reductions in local school bus transportation.
“I’m concerned about the impact on kids’ and safety and walking in the snow,” she said. “What can we do to make this a safe change if we have to make this change?”