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Galt elementary school district will provide rural bus service only

Elementary trustees say they are in '911 mode' due to lack of funding

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Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:23 am, Thu Jun 21, 2012.

Only students living outside city limits will receive bus service to and from school, under a plan approved by the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District board on Wednesday.

Approximately 250 of the 572 students served this year will have to find other transportation. Additionally, half of the district's six full-time bus drivers will likely be laid off.

The district has been discussing bus cuts for months as it anticipates only $211,462 in transportation funding from the state. Current routes cost $498,053.

"We've been working through what can we do regarding transportation services," Superintendent Karen Schauer said, adding that the decision is part of finding the best way to budget.

"Most (students) don't receive transportation services, but it's an issue of equity — how they are going to get to school to learn," she said. "It comes down to how much do you want to spend in this area?"

In April, the school board held off on a vote to eliminate bus driver positions which would have essentially cut bus services to all students except for special education students, which is required by law. Since then, there has been a public study session on the topic, Schauer has held two meetings with bus drivers and met with city representatives for possible partnerships, and a parent survey was distributed.

A decision was necessary by Wednesday, so that the district could proceed with layoffs, as well as mailing notices to parents to make other arrangements to get their students to and from school.

The board also weighed providing routes on the west side of town only, transporting middle school west to east, morning-only routes only for bus riders or offering transportation only through spring break.

A motion to serve McCaffrey Middle School students in the morning only at an additional $35,000 failed with a 2-2 split vote. Trustee Kevin Papineau was absent.

The final 3-1 decision to offer rural-only service could be a one-year fix. It will cost about $82,000 to transport students from as far away at Clay Station Road in Herald.

Board president John Gordon, who cast the dissenting vote, took issue with the option, since safety was an original concern and rural-only buses won't service the 136 students crossing Highway 99 to get from the west side to the east side. Inter-district transfers will be accepted.

"I trust parents will make sure their kids get to school safely if that means driving them across the freeway," trustee Susan Richardson said. "I would. I did."

No parents spoke at the meeting.

For more than an hour before the votes were taken, trustees continued to discuss other ways to save money, from eliminating all cellphones to asking employees to remove personal appliances such as mini-refrigerators from their classrooms to save on electricity.

"Right now we're in 911 mode. We need to save everything," trustee Wesley Cagle said. "We're trying to save programs for our kids. The little stuff adds up."

But Schauer said savings from those items would be minor.

The district will continue to look for other ways to save money and hope there is a rollover from the current year to 2012-13 that could help fund transportation, according to Chief Business Official Debbie Schmidt.

Trustees on Wednesday also unanimously approved targeted unified fundraising efforts between the district and parent/community volunteers aiming to reopen school libraries. Due to budget cuts, they will be shuttered this fall.

"The budget is so tight, we're barely at 3 percent," Schmidt said in reference to the amount of budget reserves required by state education law. "There is no wiggle room."

If voters fail to pass a tax initiative in November, Schmidt estimates an additional $2.5 million in cuts in 2013-14 to meet the 3 percent threshold.

"We are going to have to prove we can survive the multi-year (projections)," Schmidt said.

The school board will meet next week to vote on the district's 2012-13 operating budget. The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Galt City Hall City Council chambers, 380 Civic Drive, Galt.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com. For more information about local education issues, read our Education Café blog.

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