Napa Valley Unified may eliminate eight middle-school bus routes this fall as part of the school district’s plan to save money on transportation costs.
District officials presented their transportation plan to the school board during a meeting Thursday night. The plan was up for discussion only, and not for a vote.
According to school board policy, only seventh- and eighth-grade students who live more than 3 miles away from school are eligible for transportation service. Currently, the district is supporting eight middle-school bus routes that fall under the 3-mile range.
Officials are proposing to eliminate those routes to make more drivers available for field trips and to save money.
Affected middle school students would have to walk, ride a VINE bus or find another form of transportation to get to school if the plan were put in place, said Vince Meyer, the district’s general services administrator.
Some school board members raised concerns about the plan, especially the proposal to eliminate three buses that transport children from the McPherson neighborhood to Silverado Middle School. The route distance is 2.8 miles — the longest of the routes up for elimination.
“For them to walk 3 miles, so many things can happen between the home and the school. To me, that’s a concern,” board trustee Francis Ortiz-Chavez said.
Ortiz-Chavez asked Meyer if he had ever walked that distance.
“At 3 miles per hour, it’s 56 minutes. So it is a long walk,” Meyer said.
Board members proposed reviewing the 3-mile policy, and suggested that district officials secure a partnership with the VINE bus system to ensure an alternative before eliminating the routes.
In addition to cutting service, the district also proposed to have elementary school bus drivers cover two schools per shift. If this plan were to go forward, some elementary schools would have to adjust their bell schedules by up to 20 minutes.
“The whole goal is to create a design to free up six drivers,” Meyer said.
By making more drivers available, the transportation department hopes to become less reliant on charter bus companies and have its own drivers drive 90 percent of sports and field trips. In 2011-12, the department drove only 32 percent of the sports trips, and spent about $192,000 by contracting with charter companies, according to the transportation plan. If the department were to reach its 90 percent goal in 2012-13, it could save more than $124,000 in sports and field trip costs.
Currently, the district pays for the majority of charter bus services. Schools are supposed to reimburse the district, but many cannot afford to do so.
Napa and Vintage high schools have outstanding bills between $15,000 and $25,000 for transportation costs, said Wade Roach, assistant superintendent of business services. American Canyon High School owes the district more than $70,000 for charter bus services.
“Either we come up with a solution or we begin to have the discussion about which events these athletic teams can go to,” Roach said.
He said the district is working on creating a payment plan for the high schools.
While most of the transportation plan focused on cutting costs, it also contained a proposal to generate revenue. The plan is for Napa Valley Unified to provide drivers for neighboring school districts. This could generate about $15,000 a year per home-to-school route, Meyer said.
He stressed that supporting other districts couldn’t be implemented immediately, and Napa Valley Unified would focus on taking care of its own, first.
At the end of the presentation, Meyer acknowledged the board members’ concerns and said the district will continue working on the development of the plan for 2012-13.
Meyer pointed out that other school districts have had to eliminate home-to-school transportation completely — something Napa Valley Unified is working to avoid.