The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) is considering whether to eliminate “discretionary” busing, otherwise known as busing for students who are not entitled to it under Iowa law. There is precedent for cutting such busing as ICCSD has cut some discretionary busing in the past.
ICCSD staff stated in its memorandum to the ICCSD board, which was part of the January 27, 2015, board agenda packet1:
In the past, ICCSD staff have made recommendations to the Board regarding changes to discretionary busing areas. Based on feedback from the last such process, staff will not be making a recommendation and will instead provide the following information to help the Board make informed decisions. [Emphasis added.]
I found the staff’s wording odd–in my opinion, the superintendent, as the board’s only employee, is highly compensated and should make a recommendation.
Further, ICCSD’s staff’s information focused primarily on the past cost of transporting students. A better way to analyze the issue of whether to provide discretionary busing or where to provide it should include (among many factors, including safety) the projected future cost of discretionary busing (e.g. for the 2015-16 school year), including any offsetting revenues, and also provide some various financial scenarios for alternatives the board might consider. After all, the district may receive some benefit from declining fuel costs and revenues from charging a fee for discretionary busing.
Additionally, information staff presents should include which discretionary bus students might be able to hop on an existing bus that is not full along with whether at-risk funding could be made available to help pay to get some students to school. And yes, there are many demands for at-risk funding; however, ICCSD cannot provide an education and other services to students if they are not in school because they had no safe transportation. And the district should have more discussions about priorities for competing funding before budgets are cut.
The ICCSD board acted properly in considering safety for students and not making an immediate decision; however, ICCSD staff should do some more legwork and the ICCSD superintendent should make a recommendation or present recommended alternatives for the board’s consideration. Busing is an important issue for many families, and decisions should be based on the most accurate information available, including safety.
1See the information the ICCSD staff provided to the ICCSD board starting on page 239. http://www.iowacityschools.org/files/_AWAgn_/c0d119f5422c15863745a49013852ec4/1.27.15_Board_Packet_REVISED.pdf
Update: Discretionary busing is again on the ICCSD board agenda for its meeting on March 24, 2015. Below are a couple of comments:
1. The ICCSD board should consider requiring the administration to move all PPEL/SAVE eligible expenses out of the general fund to free up additional general fund dollars to pay for transportation–this wouldn’t cover all of the proposed cuts to busing but would be a start.
2. The board should require the administration to present alternatives and to break down discretionary bus costs for those alternatives into general fund and PPEL fund dollars since spending authority is an issue.