Parents will not have to pay for their children to take buses to Lodi school after all. The decision was made after only one pass had been purchased as of Friday morning, and that person will receive a full refund.
"I'm glad that they're rethinking it," said Lockeford mother of three Dawn Carvalho.
"I think they realized how much of a headache it was going to cause the transportation department. They must have looked into it a little further and realized they weren't going to get the money. It just didn't make sense."
She had already planned not to pay the fee and instead transport her daughter to Tokay High School and her two elementary children to Tokay Colony Elementary School herself.
Chief Business Official Doug Barge said Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer made the decision to forgo the pay-to-ride service after receiving input from his office, as well as board members and the public.
"Once she examined how much we had brought in, we're not far enough along to make a difference," Barge said of the fee.
However, the district is moving forward with the hub system by consolidating many of its rural stops instead of providing near door-to-door service.
The parent-pay issue will be revisited later this year and possibly enacted in the 2011-12 school year.
The district officially notified parents last week that they had until July 27 — the first day of school — to pony up $360 per child for bus service this year. Administrators hoped enough of the district's 6,600 daily bus riders would participate in the new pay-to-ride program to make a $2 million financial dent in the transportation budget.
But Nichols-Washer said savings have been realized through layoffs and other cuts in that department, as well as the implementation of the hub system. Parents were officially informed of the pass by a pre-recorded phone message late last week, but complained there wasn't enough notification time.
Many, like Carvalho, said instead of paying the fee, they would find a way to take their students to school themselves, causing concern for an increase in traffic during drop-off and pick-up times.
Mother Shanna Medeiros also planned not to pay for her son to ride.
"We are strong supporters and fundraisers for Lodi schools, but the services we receive through our tax dollars are quickly diminishing. For them to charge fees without fairly posting who or how much everyone will have to pay is just unfair," she said in an e-mail.
Under the program, those on freeand reduced-lunch would have been charged on a sliding scale.
"How can the federal government subsidize free and reduced breakfast and lunch when every other part of our system is failing?" Medeiros said.
Carlos Garcia, the district's transportation director, said earlier this week that he could not notify parents of the fee any sooner since the board of trustees did not adopt the district's budget until June 15.
In that budget, the transportation department suffered among the biggest hits and had to trim $2 million from its $6.5 million annual budget. In addition to the proposed transportation fee, it is streamlining routes by creating a hub system to save money on fuel.
In March, the school board discussed several ways to save money on transportation costs and gave direction to move forward with the pay-to-ride service, hub system and serving only those who live outside a specified walking distance radius. The changes were adopted when the board approved the budget last month.
Meanwhile, parents should be notified next week how the district's reduction in transportation cuts will affect bus routes. They can also check the district's website for more information, according to Nichols-Washer.
The hub system will save more than $550,000 annually, according to Garcia.
Students who attend Borchardt, Clements, Davis, Houston and Lakewood elementary schools will select the closest school bus stop created by the district, and Clements and Lockeford students who typically saw more stops along Highway 88 will be walking further along the busy road.
Father Chris Lucas is concerned about the safety of these stops and says most are unsafe. Some, such as the one at Collier Road and Highway 88, do not have safe clearance for children to stand or parents to park, he said.
He understands it was his family's choice to live in the country, but his son cannot bicycle 20 miles to his high school.
"I understand there will still be changes," Carvalho said, adding that she's anxious to hear more information about the new routes. Her daughter will now likely have to catch the bus around 6:15 a.m. to get to Tokay on time.
"At least I'm not having to pay to have her ride the bus from there," she said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.