for an update on a scheduled meeting.
Yellow school buses will not be transporting kids to class next year in the Lake Elsinore Unified School District unless Sacramento loosens the purse strings, according to district officials.
In a unanimous vote, LEUSD board members eliminated the home-to-school transportation program for students. Board member Jeanie Corral was absent.
The vote came during the regularly scheduled board meeting that saw dozens of LEUSD bus drivers, driver trainers and concerned parents turn out to oppose the program’s elimination.
Citing concerns over student safety, a handful of school bus supporters addressed the board with their public comments.
Lake Elsinore resident Salvador Sepulveda said he has a young grandchild in the district who is reliant on bussing. Walking to school is not an option for the child, who will be a first-grader next year, he said.
“There are enough crosses on the side of the road. We don’t need more,” he said.
Sepulveda also expressed concern about predators, and pointed to
“There’s too much temptation,” he said.
Marta Munson works as a trainer to school bus drivers in the district. Speaking at Thursday night’s meeting, she said job cuts are troublesome, but student safety is more important.
“I am more concerned about the kids,” she said.
The school bus supporters argued that conditions make a trek to school on foot or on bicycle too dangerous for some children in the 140-square-mile district. They said LEUSD boundaries are far-reaching into unincorporated rural areas that stretch west up along the Ortega Highway and north into Temescal Canyon. Additionally, they pointed out that the busy 15 Freeway runs through the district, as does the winding Ortega Highway.
The bus supporters also urged the board to consider the ramifications of added traffic that would be created around school campuses during student drop-off and pickup times. They contend that parents who can drive their children to school will do so if there is no bus service.
LEUSD Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations Greg Bowers oversees the district’s transportation program and said his recommendation to eliminate busing has kept him awake at night.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I bring this recommendation forward,” Bowers told the board. He said Governor Jerry Brown’s recent budget proposal has forced the district to make the painful decision.
“We’ve been cut to the bone, and now it’s the marrow,” he said during a break in Thursday’s meeting. “We are at our wit’s end.”
Under the governor’s most recent proposal, the district is losing its annual state funding for both the home-to-school and special needs transportation programs. Transportation costs for both programs total $5,891,552 for the 2011-12 school year, according to district figures. At the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, state funding for both programs totaled $2,096,717, district staff reported.
Under state law, the district is required to provide busing for its special needs students. District staff pegs that cost at $2.5 million for the 2012-13 school year.
According to district figures, the total number of students currently being bussed is 4,467, including nine severe special needs students from Murrieta.
The district figures also show that 82 people work in transportation, including 67 bus drivers. The LEUSD has a total of 78 buses, with only 19 of them running on compressed natural gas, which is considered a cleaner fuel option. The rest of the aged fleet is powered by diesel or gasoline, which district staff said makes salvage value minimal.
Despite Thursday’s vote to cut the home-to-school transportation program, board member Stan Crippen said the district is seeking solutions to the crisis.
“I don’t think any of us are giving up,” he said.
Rick Morsch, a planning commissioner for the city of Lake Elsinore was on hand for Thursday’s meeting. He is scheduled to meet with district officials Friday to discuss the possibility of offsetting busing costs. He is proposing the district consider outfitting some or all of its buses with stop-arms that feature cameras. Morsch said the cameras could be used to snag motorists who violate traffic laws. Revenue generated from the fines could be used to offset the lost state funding, he said.
Morsch said he has contacted a manufacturer that is willing to lease the devices to the district at no charge.
Nabbing violators with stop-arm cameras, however, would need to be enforceable under state law, and that question has not been clearly answered.
For now, the future of the yellow school bus in Lake Elsinore appears bleak.
“We are unable to find alternative solutions,” Bowers said. He, along with Kip Meyers, the district’s assistant superintendent of personnel services, told the board that the LEUSD transportation department rises above.
“They are a committed group who love kids,” Meyers said. “There’s not a better department in the county.”