Our View: Merced board's action on school buses is a good first step

March 29, 2013 

Merced Union High School District trustees Wednesday night voted to restore some student bus service to Beachwood-Franklin, Atwater-Winton and Merced areas, starting early next month.

Morning-only bus service is due to resume April 8 on four routes for the rest of the 2012-2013 school year, which ends in June. Decisions on extending these part-time services for the next school year could come at future board meetings.

While community activists, parents and board members praised the effort to restore at least some bus service this year, a long-term solution must be worked out before next school year.

This week's decision is a good first step, but it must be followed up with efforts to keep buses rolling in the years ahead. If the current plan is the template for a permanent fix, then it was more than worth the effort. If not and no other solution can be found, it's an unacceptable stopgap to quiet those concerned for student safety.

Those parents and their supporters must remain vigilant to ensure the board follows through. These residents demonstrated their power at the ballot box during the last election and that remains an effective tool for them going forward.

Providing bus service isn't cheap.

Leonard Kahn, the district's assistant superintendent for business, said adding the four part-time routes will add no more than $200,000 in costs for the current school year. He estimated adding 10 part-time bus routes and restoring service to a 2½-mile radius of the student's campus could cost an additional $600,000 for the next school year.

And in difficult budget times, wisely managing taxpayer dollars is essential. While the approval of Proposition 30 doesn't mean all financial issues have been resolved, it carries with it expectation that some slashed services will be restored.

Besides, the price of not getting kids to high school who clearly want to go is too hard to contemplate.

Districts everywhere pull out all the stops to convince students and parents just how important attendance is -- not just to school funding, but to academic attainment and future career success.

Asking those same folks to send their children on foot through sketchy neighborhoods or forcing them to negotiate traffic hazards -- putting their safety at risk -- goes counter to that go-to-school message.

All the school board and the administration has to do is the very thing it routinely asks of students: Develop a creative idea that solves a problem while making sure the numbers add up.

It won't be easy, but then few important assignments are.

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