As school systems scour budgets for possible cuts, school bus service across the region has increasingly been placed on the chopping block.
Hamilton County Schools and Dalton City Schools are considering less bus service for students, while at least a handful of other districts across the country are cutting buses altogether.
Busing is a big-ticket item. Last year in Dalton, the school system changed policy and required students within a half-mile of their schools to either walk or be driven to school.
“That saved $1 million,” said school board Chairman Steve Williams. “We did that last year, and now we’re looking at increasing that, but from a half-mile to where, I’m not really sure what makes sense.”
In the Bayless School District in suburban St. Louis, students must walk to school — or catch a ride from parents — after the school board ended bus service. The cut came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, eliminated almost half the state’s school transportation aid.
“It was a cut that while painful, avoided more damaging cuts like layoffs or increased class sizes,” Bayless school board President Jeff Preisack told The Associated Press.
Hamilton County estimates eliminating bus service for all high schoolers could save $2.6 million out of the nearly $13 million transportation budget, said Assistant Superintendent Rick Smith.
Like the Missouri school system, Hamilton County and Dalton are discussing the transportation cuts as an option in a long list of items that could be eliminated or scaled back to reduce budgetary red ink.
Dalton hasn’t presented any formal proposal on the transportation cuts this year, and the Hamilton County cuts were mentioned at a recent board workshop.
In Dalton, “we instructed our superintendent that a [teacher layoff] was the absolute last option, and that his staff should come back with as many cuts in other areas as possible to prevent that from happening,” Williams said.
Hamilton County schools also tossed around the idea of cutting middle-school sports in addition to eliminating high-school bus service. All the cuts come with consequences, Smith said.
“We have to keep in mind that we have a large number of students that come from homes that are considered below the poverty line, and in this economy, with gas prices like they are, this [eliminating bus service] could be a hardship,” Smith said.
Hamilton County and Dalton use an outside vendor to handle most of their transportation services. Costs are locked in at the beginning of the contract, but when gas prices go up — as they have in recent months — the following year’s contract may increase.
“We sign that contract every year,” Williams said. “So obviously, when gas prices go up, you expect to see an increase in the contract the next year.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...