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Galt elementary school district board to decide on cutting bus service

Most students, including rural residents, will have to walk or be dropped off

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Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:15 am, Wed Apr 25, 2012.

The Galt Joint Union Elementary School District will eliminate most bus service come fall if board members tonight approve laying off six bus drivers. The cut is required after the district completed its recent second-interim report, which showed a growing shortfall.

"We still are unclear what level of funding we're going to get from the state for transportation," Superintendent Karen Schauer said Tuesday. "Because of that, I have to plan for the worst, which means no funds for transportation."

In a worst-case scenario, the district is facing a $4 million shortfall for the 2012-13 school year.

Transportation services cost about $500,000. Of that, the district typically receives approximately $211,000 from the state — although that could be cut, according to Debbie Schmidt, the district's director of business services.

Other reductions on tonight's agenda include cutting four library technicians, which could result in no library services; reducing the number of gardeners from two to one, leaving a sole person responsible for maintaining all of the district's grounds; and eliminating 11 special education instructional assistants due to the change in needs as students move between grade levels or onto high school.

But one resident is not convinced the district has weighed all of its options before proposing to cut buses.

"This needs to be better thought-out and have some community involvement," said George Fradenburg, who takes issue with the fact that the item is listed on the agenda as a resolution to lay off classified employees.

If the motion is approved by the board, all transportation will be eliminated except for special education students, which is required by law.

But Schauer defended the agenda placement.

"They're all cuts related to classified staff. Transportation is not the only one being affected," she said.

Additionally, she pointed out that there have been public meetings about potential bus service cuts, and she's discussed the issue with the district advisory committee whose members include parents and staff.

"This is a difficult decision to make because we certainly don't want to lose students because they can't make it to school," Schauer said, adding that the district may be able to work with the city to provide transportation.

If the board approves eliminating school bus service, parents will be informed by letter.

They will be offered preferential placement for K-6 families who live on the west side of town and have children who attend Eastside schools. Students could remain at the Eastside schools if the parents can transport them to school, according to the district.

If state transportation funding become available, the district will prioritize bussing middle school students from the west to the Eastside. In the meantime, they will be walking over Highway 99.

"You're basically hurting the poorest students," said Fradenburg, who is concerned about student safety. He points to the death of a Lodi Unified School District student when that district eliminated some of its school bus routes a few years ago.

He said he will likely drive his granddaughter to school since he is retired.

"But not everyone is able to do that," he said.

Earlier this month, the Galt school board and its classified staff ratified a contract that includes an additional five furlough days and a salary freeze. While the agreement helped prevent school closures for 2012-13, it was not enough, according to Schauer.

"We could have closed two schools and the staff that comes with it, but we were able to take that off the table," she said.

The superintendent is still waiting on budget information from the state.

"In order to prepare families and employees who may be out of a job, we need to make some decisions, although they could change," Schauer said. "We have to go with the information we have at the time. We have little choice."

Some have asked why the district does not charge for transportation, a practice the high school district adopted years ago. However, the majority of elementary bus riders receive free or reduced lunches and cannot be charged to ride the bus.

Over the past years, the district has reduced bus routes and increased walking distances to save money.

At tonight's meeting, Schauer will also give an update on efforts to gauge whether residents would support a parcel tax or general obligation bond on November's ballot.

An outside agency has administered phone surveys to a total of 500 registered voters, and are tabulating results at this time. Schauer said she expects to have the results in May to share with the school board.

Lodi Unified officials say that that current bus services will continue through next year. Even if the transportation budget is cut in the coming months by the state, the district plans to dip into reserves to cover the gap, said board of trustees president Ron Heberle.

The board will take a closer look at the transportation budget at its next three meetings.

"We should be fine with buses. It's not definite until May, but it looks okay," said Heberle.

The school meets at 7 p.m. today 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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