By Stuart Hirsch The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Anderson Community Schools officials are proposing a six-point plan to cut transportation costs by at least $1.5 million starting this year.
The moves are necessary to begin balancing revenue with expenditures Kevin Brown and Joseph Cronk told the Board of Trustees on Tuesday. Brown is the district’s chief financial officer; Cronk is chief operations officer.
This school year (2013-2014), ACS spent just over $5.6 million in transportation costs using a fleet of 144 buses that transported primarily elementary school children to and from school, according to Brown and Cronk.
Beginning in the fall, however, they proposed:
— Eliminating bus transportation for students who attend other schools by choice. Students would still be able to choose different schools, but their parents would be required to provide transportation.
◆ Ending bus service for students who were formerly part of the federal No Child Left Behind program.
◆ End busing for student in high-ability programs, although a shuttle service would be provided.
◆ End busing for students who live in one district but attend school in another for “educational stability” purposes. Parents of these children would be required to provide their own transportation under the plan.
◆ Seek a 10 percent reduction in special education transportation in 2014, 1015 and 2016.
◆ And explore placement of English as a New Language programs in residence district schools.
Under the plan, the bus fleet would be reduced to 117; and about 665 students would be affected, Brown and Cronk said.
“This does not get us where we need to be even under the best-case scenario,” Brown said. He called the plan a first step in bringing revenue and expenditures under control. If necessary, officials could explore other areas where costs could be cut.
Between 2009 and 2011, transportation revenue and expenditures were approximately balanced at about $4 million. Costs began escalating in 2012, however, when the district began providing additional transportation options, Brown and Cronk said.
The areas targeted for cuts are in programs where the district has most recently begun providing transportation services, the two men said.
“We will take a hard look at what other practical alternatives we have,” Brown added. “We are not going to recommend at this juncture that there would be elimination of transportation services.”
One proposal he said that’s being reviewed is the possible return in 2015 of school “walk zones.”
School transportation costs became the subject of intense debate in the current session of the Indiana General Assembly because of a 2012 law that was set to take effect this year requiring public school districts to apply property tax revenue to debt payments before other expenses such as buses or building repairs.
But many districts already struggling financially because of statewide property tax caps cut said the new rules would leave them so strapped for cash that they might not be able to continue providing bus transportation.
No school system in Madison County threatened to eliminate transportation but several districts, including Anderson, Elwood, Franton-Lapel and South Madison faced losing more than half their transportation funds if the new law were to take effect as planned.
Dennis L. Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, said Wednesday that a bill delaying the effective date of the debt payment regulation for three years was signed by members of a House and Senate conference committee on Wednesday morning.
Although he wasn’t certain of the schedule, that conference committee report must be approved by the full House and Senate — which Costerison expects to occur before the General Assembly adjourns this week.
Meanwhile, other county school districts haven’t yet begun formulating plans for how to deal with transportation costs.
Tim Smith, superintendent of Elwood schools, said on Wednesday there haven’t been substantive discussions about transportation funding in Elwood.
“We have had some minimal conversations about it, but we are not ready to make any proposals or changes to our future transportation,” Smith said. “Right now we’re going to keep things as they are and see how everything plays out.”
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What's next Members of the Anderson Community Schools Board of Trustees said they will review the transportation proposal outlined at Tuesday night's meeting and be prepared to discuss it more thoroughly at the April board meeting.