By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Thousands of Madison County children ride buses to and from school every day, and it's not cheap.
School systems spend millions of dollars every year on bus driver salaries, fuel, tires, maintenance and the cost of the buses themselves.
Unless the Indiana General Assembly takes corrective action soon, on July 1, many Indiana school districts — including Anderson, South Madison, Frankton-Lapel and Elwood schools — will have millions less available to pay for transportation costs than they do now.
Anderson Community Schools will have nearly $3.1 million less, a loss of about 58 percent, of its total transportation funding if nothing changes between now and Mid-March, when the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.
Elwood Community Schools could lose 87 percent of its transportation funding, $444,044; South Madison Community Schools could lose $913,000, 54 percent; and Frankton-Lapel Community Schools could lose $724,000, or 53 percent.
Finding ways of doing more with less is nothing new for Kevin Brown, business manager for Anderson Community Schools, who said the corporation has struggled to cope with about $7 million in revenue losses since property tax limits were enacted by state lawmakers in 2008.
"You can't spend money you don't have," added Brown. The net result, however, will be adjustments in transportation services. What those will be isn't yet clear because no decisions have been made.
"We're not going to threaten to end all transportation services, but you don't lose that kind of revenue and then not have an impact on the delivery of services," Brown said.
At South Madison, more than half of the district's 4,500 students ride buses every day, said Business Manager Ken McCarty. The school system operates and maintains its own fleet of 38 buses, and contracts with eight drivers who own their own buses.
The loss of $913,000, "would be a very big hit ... It would be a big challenge," McCarty added. If no legislative relief occurs in this legislative session, he believes some of the lost revenue could be made up with general fund revenue. "We'd do the best that we could do with whatever hand that we're dealt."
Bobby Fields, superintendent of Frankton-Lapel schools, said the loss of transportation funds would be both painful and hard to make up from other revenue sources. "We obviously don't have three-quarters of a million dollars sitting around ... there are really no contingency plans," Fields said.
While it would be illegal under Indiana law to charge parents a fee for bus service because taxes are already levied for that purpose, Fields said, if the district were to eliminate the levy, the cost of providing bus service annually would be about $1,000.
"That would be a pretty hefty fee per family," to ride the bus. And the district has no intention of doing that, Fields added.
"The best-case scenario would be for the General Assembly to tweak the law so that it doesn't affect schools like it's going to if they don't change the law," Fields said.
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