School trustees vote to eliminate school busing


The LEUSD Board of Trustees voted to eliminate the current transportation operation and restructure remaining transportation services, but will re-evaluate the decision should state funding be restored. Credit: Georgia Zermeno
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Stay-at-home moms with minivans soon may become the most popular persons in Canyon Lake. It appears state budget cuts in education could affect busing for students who attend Lake Elsinore Unified Schools. A 4-0 vote of the LEUSD Board of Trustees on February 9 (Jeanie Corral was absent) ended home-to-school busing, beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

The plan approved by the board would only provide busing for Special Education students whose busing is required under federal law.

The LEUSD spends nearly $6 million on busing each year, with the remainder of the funding coming from the general fund, which is expected to shrink next year due to the state budget crises. At this time, LEUSD stands to lose $2 million in state transportation funding in 2012-2013.

Of course, as with any announcement of reduction in services, school officials offer a qualifier (meaning parents shouldn't start wringing their hands just yet). "District officials are still evaluating whether the district could offer busing for elementary students or students in remote areas," said Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Support Services Kip Meyers in a PE.com article. At the time of the announcement, officials also were saying that, if additional funding becomes available, the issue could be revisited.

LEUSD summarized the decision on February 10 with this statement on the website: “A loss in revenue due to state budge cuts has forced the elimination of home-to school bus transportation next year, though Special Ed transportation will continue for eligible students.” A revised post on February 21 included the above with the additional statement: "The Governing Board voted to eliminate the current transportation operation and restructure remaining transportation services, but will re-evaluate the decision should state funding be restored."

Alex Cook, a Canyon Lake resident and parent of three children who attend three different schools, says, "I got wind of it before the vote and wrote e-mails and letters disapproving ? not a single response from a single LEUSD board member. Imagine how crowded the school parking lots will be now."

When the announcement of the LEUSD Board vote was posted on The Friday Flyer's Facebook page a week ago there was a flurry of responses from parents concerned about traffic, safety, how parents who work would get their children to school, and how many bus drivers would be out of work.

School busing has been a hot topic since December 13, 2011,when Sacramento announced that funding for home-to-school transportation in California would be reduced by $248 million as part of mid-year budget cuts. Funding for school transportation had already been reduced by 20 percent; this decision slashed it an additional 50 percent. The cuts were set to take effect January 1, 2012.

On February 10, Senate Bill (SB) 81 was signed by Governor Brown, which restored funding for home-to school transportation for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, leading some to believe that funding for busing was no longer in danger

In an article on schoolbusfleet.com, Mike Rea, Government Relations Chair for the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO), was quoted as a response to SB 81, saying, "This was outstanding news for school transportation in California . . ."

While the passage of SB81 means statewide funding for school bus service is restored for this fiscal year, Rea noted that the work is not over in terms of restoring funding for the long term. "Our next concern is that Governor Brown announced his budget proposal for the 2012-2013 school year, and he proposed the complete elimination of school transportation funding."

Rea added that the pupil transportation community in the state still needs to lobby on behalf of the importance of school transportation.

If the budget cut stands, Canyon Lake families will be expected to transport students to school with their own means. Calculations from Mapquest indicate Canyon Lake families with students who attend elementary school at Tuscany Elementary or Cottonwood Elementary must travel anywhere from 4 to 10 miles. Students who attend Canyon Lake Middle travel approximately 4 to 5 miles. High school students who attend their boundary school, Temescal Canyon High School, travel anywhere from 8 to 10 miles; and those who choose inter-district transfer to Elsinore High School travel approximately 11 miles.

LEUSD currently buses about 4,300 students, including 400 Special Education students. The 144-square mile district includes Canyon Lake, Lake Elsinore, Wildomar and Horsethief Canyon. In most cases, busing for inter-district transfers is not available.

"It is a hard reality that the Lake Elsinore Unified School District is making budget cuts to meet the needs of the district in educating our children," says CLPOA Vice-President Larry Neigel, a former school district trustee in San Bernardino. "The non-classroom cuts were always my priority as an elected board member in my district. Transportation is a prudent cut to make versus educational programs or athletics or fine arts, etc."

Larry says if the LEUSD decision stands he would propose that the City of Canyon Lake or the Canyon Lake POA (or both) contact the school district to lease or purchase buses to meet the needs of Canyon Lake kids. He would be willing to make the initial contact to see if it's a feasible solution.

The LEUSD school board agenda for February 7 included the statement, "In light of the recent decision by the governor to eliminate Special Education and home-to-school transportation funding, staff recommends that the Governing Board consider the elimination of home-to-school transportation. However, in the event that funding is restored to local districts, staff recommends that the Governing Board re-evaluate eliminating home-to school transportation."

Governor Brown's 2012-2013 budget unveiled in January can be revised in May. If this occurs, LEUSD will re-evaluate its decision. Whether the threat is real to eliminate busing remains to be seen. As one commentator wrote on The Friday Flyer's Facebook page, the issue could be a legislative power play at the state level. In the meantime, get the minivans tuned and ready to roll.

To voice their opinion on this issue, residents can contact their elected representatives, with phone numbers listed under “Lawmakers” on page 20 of the Residential Directory.