MERCED — Several options are being considered to remedy large-scale cuts in busing for local high school students, but it may take a while before a solution is reached.
Last spring, Merced Union High School District trustees cut busing in the fall for Merced, Atwater and Livingston students living within five miles of their campuses. Transportation cuts may have played a role in the defeat of two trustees in last November's election, and the issue continues to smolder in local communities.
Leonard Kahn, the district's assistant superintendent for business services, outlined several options but cautioned that a decision may not come until at least May, when the nature of state funding for schools is more certain.
Kahn mentioned the possibility of one bus making three runs a day in the mornings and afternoons between the Beachwood-Franklin area and Buhach Colony High School in Atwater. Another possibility could be partial bus service, either to or from school, along with working with county transit officials to reduce fares on The Bus for students.
The annual cost of operating a school bus is estimated at $116,000 a year. Last May, when 15 bus drivers were furloughed and bus service was cut back to five miles, it was estimated the moves would save the district about $1.5 million.
"The biggest issue is how much revenue will be restored by the governor's May budget revision," Kahn said. "This will be the primary driver in any decision, including transportation. We will have to wait and see until we know what the revenue picture looks like."
The district is looking into establishing early morning campus activities, which would allow working parents to drop off their students before school starts, Kahn said.
Enid Picart, a Modesto-based community worker with the California Rural Legal Assistance Inc., said the district is being responsive to residents' concerns. However, protests continue.
A group of parents calling themselves "Walk Your Talk" are due to take part in Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade through Merced. They will be marching with yellow shirts to call attention to the bus cutbacks, Picart said.
Several months ago, the CRLA demanded that trustees restore bus service and meet with disgruntled residents. She said the CRLA is doing its own research on the transportation issue and wants to resolve it without court action.
Last fall, The Bus began offering introductory half-price bus passes at $22.50 a month for students. This semester, the rate reverted to the regular $45 monthly fare, said Rich Green, manager of Merced County transit. He said he's not sure about the possibility of future student discounts.
Green said it's obvious the county's bus service isn't an equivalent alternative to school buses. The county's bus system must recover at least 10 percent of its costs through the fare box.
Kahn met with about three dozen people a week ago in a two-hour meeting at Joe Stefani School in the Franklin area. Picart, who attended the session, said parents still are against the cutbacks, even after a detailed explanation by Kahn.
Trustee Dave Honey said the district is trying to work with people to find a transportation solution. He defended last year's cutback decision, saying the budget is $2 million in arrears for the year and that cuts had to be made someplace.
Trustee Dora Crane, who defeated incumbent Mike Carpenter in the November election, said the district is listening to parents' concerns about transportation. She said no significant increases have been seen in student tardiness or absences in the first 60 days of the current semester.
Trustee Will Snyder, who defeated appointed incumbent Kurt Kollmann in the November, said the district is working on options to get the situation is resolved. He said the district will do everything it can to make sure students are safe and able to get to school.
About three of the parents attending the meeting at Stefani School were assisted by Norma Cardona, who works with the district's homeless transition program. Cardona gave these parents applications for free bus transportation for their children.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.