Archive for Thursday, March 9, 2006

Board approves bus fee increase

March 9, 2006

Over the objections of one De Soto USD 232 Board of Education member, it's going to cost families living close to schools more to have their children ride the bus to school next year if they don't pay early.

The board Monday approved a fee schedule for the 2006-2007 school year. Among its provisions was the first increase in the district's FareRide Program in three years. State law requires the district to provide free rides for all students living more than 2.5 miles from their attendance centers. The six-year-old FareRide Program charges those living within that radius to ride the bus.

The proposal adopted by the board will increase the fee per student from the current $240 a year to $250. However, the fee for those paying the bill before July 1 would be $200. The board adopted the discount two years ago to encourage people to enroll early so that the district can better estimate the number of buses it will need from Laidlaw Transportation Inc., which charges the district on a per bus basis.

As in the past, families will only be charged for two children, meaning the fee for a family with three or more children would be capped at $400 if they paid by July 1 and $500 if paid after that date.

The district policy of allowing split payments on a semester basis was retained. All payments are made direct to Laidlaw.

"The cost of a student to ride the bus is just over $500 a year, so we're just recouping half," said district transportation director Jack Deyoe.

The fee was not supported by De Soto board member Randy Johnson, who not only opposed the increase but the fee itself.

His position prompted board President Sandy Thierer to revisit the history of the fee. It was adopted in six years ago, she said, to reduce the drain on the district's general fund, which pays teachers' salaries.

Word that the board would consider a fee policy brought a crowd to a 2000 board meeting, Thierer said.

"I appointed everyone in that room to a committee; this was their solution," she said.

Johnson remained bothered by half-empty buses the district runs every day, the result Deyoe said of a state mandate the district have seats available for all students living beyond the 2.5-mile limit. That mandate meant the district couldn't take advantage of the unused seats, Deyoe said.

"Right now, we're hauling 50 percent of our kids or more than 2,000," he said. "If we went back to the old way, we'd have to make room on buses for 3,500 or 4,000 students. Most of the high school students you assume they're too cool to ride the bus. The rest would ride because it would be free to them."

Other fee increases approved included a 10-cent increase in breakfast prices for students and adults, a 10-cent increase for second lunches for students, the same increase for adult lunches, and a $3 hike in the yearly preschool milk fee. Catastrophic insurance for athletes and cheerleaders will increase from $5.50 a year to $6 a year, and Johnson County Community College is increasing tuition for College Now courses from $58 per credit hour to $63.

At the request of board member Don Clark the board will review admission fees for students to attend sporting events, especially elementary school children.

"We have kids whose parents just can't afford to pay to get them into the games," he said. "They are literally outside the fence watching games."

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