School district pushing bus ridership next week

School district officials are encouraging students to ride the bus next week because the more riders there are, the more money the district gets from the state. - Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo
School district officials are encouraging students to ride the bus next week because the more riders there are, the more money the district gets from the state.
— image credit: Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo

South Kitsap School District’s transportation budget is dependent on one week.

That’s why Scott Logan, the district’s transportation director, is encouraging as many students as possible to ride the bus to school each morning.

“Bus Ridership Count Week” begins Monday and runs through Friday. SKSD bus drivers count every student on the bus in the morning throughout the week.

Based on those numbers, the district receives state funding for school transportation for an entire school year.

Logan said bus ridership typically is lower in the morning as many parents transport students to school or drop them off at a daycare center. He understands that parents want to spend as much time as possible with their children, but hopes they can help the district in this instance.

“We just want them to realize the position we’re in and the opportunity for the impact on school funding,” Logan said. “Every dollar that we don’t get from the state comes out of levy funding.”

He said the state funds district transportation at 64 percent, which is “consistent with the state average.” But if that number increased to 100 percent, Logan said that would mean about $1 million more in state funding.

Logan and the district are limited with how they can increase that number. He said they can actively promote riding the bus to school, but can’t offer incentives to encourage it.

But getting everyone onto the bus isn't necessarialy beneficial. The district doesn’t receive funding for any student who lives less than a mile from their school. And those are tabulated by a crow-flight mile rather than actual miles on pavement. For example, if a student is one-quarter of a crow-flight mile from the school, but an obstruction such as a hill or water makes it a two-mile bus drive, that student still does not meet the requirement to be funded by the state.

Logan is on a committee that seeks to reform the entire formula by the 2011-12 school year. He said it is unfair not to count students who live less than a mile away from a school, noting that a registered sex offender or a vicious dog might be in the neighborhood.

“It’s supposed to be an incentive not to transport those students and let them walk,” Logan said. “The formula was built in the ’70s when it wasn’t not as big of an issue to take a 5-year-old and let them walk to school.”

He said the new formula, which would fund SKSD transportation at 98 percent based on analyses they have performed, also would address the small sample-size issue of counting students only for a week. The new method would count students riding the bus both to and from school during three separate weeks in the year.

“If we have exceptional growth in an elementary school and need to add a bus in November, there’s no way to go back in and add funding,” he said.

“It’s a matter of them committing the dollars because it represents more realistically what it costs to transport students.”

Logan said the new method also would be safer for bus drivers. Under the current system, they have to count students at each stop. The new plan would tabulate those students at the school, which he said will allow drivers to concentrate on the road.

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