Parents look elsewhere for summer bussing, bus drivers ‘holding their breath’
Some parents are planning carpools, students are tuning up their bicycles and getting their walking shoes ready, and school bus drivers are looking for summer employment elsewhere.
It looks as though there won’t be summer school transportation in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, and route cutbacks for the following school year are looking more and more likely.
“For summer school, I would suggest parents be prepared for the carpool,” said Tom Miller, director of transportation. “The particulars [about next year’s transportation] are taking form, but we’re not ready to present them.”
The school board recently passed a package of recommended reductions for the 2003-2004 school year, which included cuts in special education staffing, overtime budget and the district business office. Transportation cuts may include bringing in points of service, reducing the maintenance budget and energy savings.
“Transportation tends to be the first thing to go or a major thing to go,” said Barbara York, an 18-year school bus driver for Tahoe Truckee Unified.
“If those buses weren’t there, there’d be gridlock of smog-producing vehicles and a lot more tardy students,” York said.
Because the district encompasses such a large area, about 720 square-miles, many parents depend on transportation for their children, York said.
The two Truckee summer school locations, Truckee Elementary and Tahoe Truckee High, are a great distance from subdivisions like Glenshire and Floriston, and many working parents look to transportation so their children get to school.
“Of course we would prefer to have busing, but I understand it is a large general fund expenditure,” said Glenshire Elementary Principal Kathleen Gauthier.
One parent at Glenshire Elementary approached Gauthier about organizing a carpool, so she published the parent’s information in the school’s monthly newsletter.
Carol Hagan, the parent trying to organize the carpool, works in Reno and her husband works in Incline Village.
“The situation is, both of my children have to go to summer school, and because I work, I can’t pick them up,” she said.
Hagan said she hasn’t received any calls from parents, yet.
“I’m just keeping my kids enrolled until the last minute to see if anything works out,” she said.
Finding a summer job
“Everyone’s kind of holding their breath,” York said about her co-workers. “There’s breathing room in our contracts for reduction in hours.”
Miller – who heads the staff of approximately 50 bus drivers, maintenance crew and substitute drivers – said that although $260,000 of reductions are on the table for the transportation department, there shouldn’t need to be any layoffs in the 2003-2004 school year.
“At this point in the department, only one position will be gone. And that will be due to attrition, not layoffs,” Miller said.
It hasn’t stopped bus drivers from looking for employment elsewhere for the summer months.
Denise Clark, a 17-year special education bus driver, will have summer job security because the federal individual education plan mandates that school districts must provide home-to-school transportation for special needs students.
Her co-workers, however, are in a different situation.
“They’re trying to scramble to find jobs right now, driving fire buses, resort shuttles, hospital shuttles. Other people are talking about working as gardeners. It’s costly to live up here, so they’re trying to keep the paychecks coming in,” Clark said.
Usually the transportation department has posted a sign-up sheet for summer drivers by this time in the year, Clark said, but she hasn’t seen one yet.
“They’ve always offered summer school as an option for drivers,” she added.
*Jim! Let me know if the following part doesn’t make sense.*
After the summer, however, drivers can face shortened routes.
Bus driver Gary Perona said the funds saved on fuel and labor by shortening routes will be lost once the lake side buses are moved from North Tahoe High School – where the bus depot will be taken out due to renovation – to the new Truckee transportation hub next school year.
Then Lake Tahoe-side bus drivers will travel over Brockway Summit or 89 south to reach their stops and return to Truckee at the end of the day, more than doubling the distance they usually travel from the high school, said Perona, a seven-year driver with the district.
“The state budget crunch just magnifies the problem,” said Perona, who drives his routes on the lake side of the district.
“It all comes down to the overall lack of vision from the district,” he said.
Transportation director Miller said the department accounted for the funds to travel from the Truckee transportation hub to the lake routes before the list of budget cuts was decided. It was all part of the planning process for the new facility, he said.
Parents interested in organizing a carpool out of Glenshire should contact Carol Hagan by leaving a message at 582-5148.
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