A civil grand jury in Marin County in northern California is urging the launch of a better-funded school bus program to serve more kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
The grand jury concluded that school districts, transportation agencies, and municipalities should collaborate to develop a cost-efficient and coordinated yellow school bus program, or YSB, to increase ridership.
“Existing YSB programs in Marin lack coordination and consistent funding, resulting in inefficiencies,” concluded the 13-page report released on June 8. “There are school districts with no [school bus] service. Other school districts have limited service, while still others have comprehensive programs. Funding sources vary between districts as well.”
The report stresses that traffic congestion is consistently cited as the number one problem in Marin County, with school-related traffic being a significant contributor. “In the past, schools had the resources to provide bus service to a high proportion of their students. With the funding limitations imposed by Proposition 13, along with other funding constraints, most school districts are not able to afford school bus programs,” the report added.
California voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978 to assess property values at their 1976 value. It limited annual property taxes to no more than one percent of the full cash value of the property, with an inflation rate not to exceed two percent per year, except for change of ownership or completion of new construction.
“Options to relieve roadway congestion, encourage healthy ways to get to school and improve the coordination of resources dedicated to providing school transportation,” a previously released study from Dec. 2015 identified. “However, while significant opportunities were confirmed, no likely funding methods were found.”
As a result, a “district-by-district approach to YSB programs has been undertaken for traffic relief. These programs were initiated, funded, and managed in different ways. Existing YSB programs in Marin lack the coordination and consistent funding that could maximize efficiency. There are some school districts with no YSB service. Other school districts have limited service, while still others have comprehensive programs. This lack of coordination exists because no organization has the authority to coordinate and manage a YSB program.”
Among the itemized grand jury recommendations are:
- The Marin County Board of Supervisors should work with Marin Transit to secure ample locations for bus parking and a location for bus maintenance by the end of 2018.
- All municipalities should work with Marin Transit to secure ample locations for bus parking and a location for bus maintenance by the end of 2018.
- Marin Transit should produce and make public a list of possible sites for bus parking and maintenance and the barriers to purchasing and utilizing each site by October.
- Marin Transit should facilitate negotiations for a financial arrangement across the full group of participants that would distribute any tax revenue lost by a municipality or the County for providing a parking or maintenance facility.
- The Marin County Board of Supervisors should direct Marin Transit to establish a new standing YSB committee by September.
- Marin Transit should establish a new standing YSB committee that would provide guidance on YSB issues to include representatives from the County, Marin County Office of Education, and each school district and municipality in the urbanized areas of Marin. The initial meeting should be held by October.
- School districts (with or without existing YSB programs) and municipalities within the urbanized area of the County should join and actively participate in the YSB committee providing guidance to Marin Transit on YSB issues, such as cost allocations, bell times and routes. The initial meeting should be held by October.
- The YSB committee should work toward the establishment of a coordinated YSB for the K-8 program for the urbanized areas of Marin with the goal of beginning the coordinated program by the 2019-2020 school year.
- Marin Transit should manage the development and operations of the coordinated YSB program beginning immediately, with the goal of initiating operations by the 2019-2020 school year.