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School district makes transportation changes

Article Date: 
23 August, 2013 (All day)

Grappling with a budgetary shortfall of over $300,000, and upcoming health care reform implementation, the Morgan School District has been making cuts that have affected many area bus routes.  The changes affect students, parents, bus drivers and administrators.
The first couple days of school, bus drivers allowed all children at bus stops to ride the bus until final counts could be determined.  The district had warned that the routes would likely not remain as they were last school year and they would be strict in following state guidelines.
The route changes could affect one board member personally.
Boardmember Ken Durrant, who has several grandchildren living just outside the busing boundary, may have to be the grandpa transporting kids to and from school every day.
Superintendent Doug Jacobs said very few allowances can be made if children who must walk to school would encounter hazardous routes.  Two parents put that to the test at the last board meeting, saying their children in North Morgan would have to cross on and off ramps to Interstate 84 without a crossing guard to walk the 1.3 miles to school.
“I know it has been a courtesy and by law you don’t have to, but I hope our kids’ safety would be considered,” said Jill Hatch, the parent of a first grader.
The district tentatively agreed to transport those children to school on the bus.  
While the district can add as many ineligible routes as they want, the state will only reimburse the district’s transportation costs for one ineligible stop per route.  The district will let the number of eligible students on the bus determine how many allowances can be made, Jacobs said.
For those students with day care arrangements, their eligibility is determined from the location of their day cares rather than their homes.
Parent Becky Shaw said she was disappointed to hear the district was considering cutting the bus route to the Davis Applied Technology College.  The district is still looking into transportation alternatives for those students enrolled in the DATC including charging a fee and allowing volunteer parents to drive a district-provided vehicle.
That state reimbursement has been waning over the last few years, from as high as 85 percent to 60 percent last school year.  With the anticipated cuts to transportation this year, the state’s reimbursements will equal about 64 percent of actual costs, Business Manager D’Lynn Poll said.
The district also informed drivers that their hours would be cut in an effort to save money that otherwise would have gone toward their health insurance.
Bus driver Roseann Petersen, who has been employed with the school district for 18 years, said the move was especially devastating to two bus drivers.
“You have had a hard decision balancing the budget,” she said.  “But the impact has been devastating to us.”
Petersen said her hours were reduced from 40 to 29, meaning her paycheck will be about $900 less and she will now have to seek out and pay for her own health insurance since her husband is unable to work.  
The other driver will have similar struggles as she is a single mom who has been employed with the district for 20 years.
“We have given our all to the district.  When we started it was with the intent to get retirement,” said Petersen, who is three years away from retirement.  “My life has been ripped out from under me.  I can’t provide health insurance or even pay my bills.”
Jacobs told principals to scale back on student incentive trips that involve the need for transportation.
“There has been some real pain from the decision the district has had to make,” Jacobs said.  “We are sympathetic to those it affects.  All the concerns that come in do not fall on deaf ears.”
Jacobs encouraged parents to call the district office with their concerns.
“It has been a busy few weeks,” Jacobs said.  “We have felt a lot of pain.”
While riding around the county to determine bus routes, the new superintendent who started his position July 1 said he now knows the roads of the county much better.
“This has been like a Braille activity for me,” he said.  “We have some work left to do.”
Jacobs said the district will next have to determine bus routes for kindergartners who start a week later than all other students.  Some parents in outlying areas with fewer than 10 students per bus route are worried their routes will be eliminated as well.  Poll said that a route has to have 10 riders to be eligible for state reimbursement.
“We understand the situation you are facing,” Board president Bruce Galbraith said.  “But we are facing a financial situation.”
The board directed district staff to implement a new transportation committee.