It’s rare when district employees applaud a cost-cutting measure made by a school board. But a group of bus drivers for Grand Island schools clapped Monday (Aug. 18) when the School Board decided to eliminate one bus each from the two pickup times for after-school activities.
That’s because the board had brought up and weighed far more drastic measures throughout the night, from consolidating its schools to unified pickup times to eliminating busing for team practices entirely.
The late-bus reductions, approved unanimously, will likely save the district less than $5,200 in operation and salary costs, after state aid amounts are taken out. But board members said the buses run far below capacity on an average night, and the cuts are necessary in light of increasing fuel prices.
And late-run buses may be just the beginning, Superintendent Robert Christmann said, as fuel prices remain high and the state’s looming $6.5 billion deficit paints “a fairly grim budget picture” for the upcoming school year.
“We need to look at field trips, we need to look at consolidated stops . . . everything gets a look,” Christmann said. “And transportation isn’t alone. We’re going to be looking for savings everywhere.”
Busing data provided to the board showed that on most evenings, between 20 and 24 students were loaded onto five buses, each of which can hold a total of 44 people.
But drivers for the district said consistent timing and safety were the larger part of why five routes are run for after-school activities
Jerry Tutwiler, a driver with the district and former Kenmore West coach, said that when he and his wife were both working when their children were in school, reliable transportation made sports, music and student government activities possible for his children.
“Otherwise, they’d be walking, riding their bikes down busy roads or driving with other teenagers, which doesn’t always work out so well,“ Tutwiler said. “For me and my wife, it was a blessing to know our kids would get home safely.”
Supervisor for Transportation Jack Burns said drivers might have feared drastic action by the board, given the increased scrutiny bus costs have been given in other districts. While some districts offer three runs of door-to-door service for after-school events, others have required students staying for athletics to make their own arrangements.
The vehicle purchases approved by voters earlier this year will go toward 30- person buses with better fuel efficiency, Burns said. In the meantime, he said, he will work with principals to coordinate activities with the new bus schedules.
In another matter, former board member David Goris was appointed to fill the remainder of James Hanna’s term, which expires in June 2009.
Goris, an executive at Sorrento Cheese, served two terms from 2000 to 2006 and currently sits on the board’s Internal Audit Committee. He was chosen from a handful of candidates interviewed by the board to replace Hanna, who left for out-of- state work.