HomeNewsRural School Districts May Bear Brunt of Midyear 'Trigger' Cuts

Rural School Districts May Bear Brunt of Midyear ‘Trigger’ Cuts

Budget forecast for California: gloomy. When the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) announced a $3.7-billion state shortfall last week, school districts across the state, especially in rural counties, braced for midyear budget cuts that will impact transportation services.

California schools could face up to $1.4 billion in midyear “trigger” cuts if the Department of Finance’s December report does not offer a budgetary forecast that is more optimistic than the LAO’s. This could mean the elimination of $248 million in home-to-school busing subsidies, which would disproportionately affect rural students.

“We have seen this trend,” said Leanne Kenley, a consultant with the state Department of Education’s Office of School Transportation. “It’s tragic because the best place for children to be is on school buses — and rather than getting more children on buses, we’re decreasing the number.”

In rural Humboldt County, the cut would total $113 per student; in Mariposa County, $346 per student. For low-income students, the cut would average $49 per child, compared with $23 in wealthier districts. School districts in Kern County have planned for cuts, and most will absorb them by dipping into general and reserve funds, according to the superintendent in a local news report. But for others, planning is not enough if they have plowed through their reserves and staffing and supply budgets.

Officials in smaller rural school districts like El Tejon, Blake and Linns Valley–Poso Flat are weighing where to cut, as eliminating transportation routes often leads to a drop in student attendance — and linked revenues.

At a recent meeting with school bus inspectors, Kenley said they discussed the impact transportation cuts have on the bottom line due to lower attendance. “I think it does have a direct correlation, especially when you’re dealing with the rural districts and there is no alternate form of transportation for students, except for parents or walking,” she said. “But, unfortunately, the funding isn’t there, and it’s decreasing as we speak.”

Rural Bus-Service Woes in Other States

Sharp declines in local property tax revenues meant a third year of painful budget cuts for many Colorado school districts, particularly those in rural El Paso County. Rural districts’ transportation needs take a bigger piece of the budget pie because much of the land is agricultural (and assessed at a lower rate) and students must be bused longer distances.

Hanover School District 28, which runs buses across 266 square miles, changed special-education service providers and cut the librarian post to balance its budget. Calhan School District RJ-1 also had to make tough calls, slashing eight staff positions to maintain current levels of bus service.

This week Illinois’ rural school districts received bad news when told they will lose 40 percent of their transportation dollars. The nearly $90 million in cuts Governor Quinn made to transportation funding will stand, reports, since lawmakers failed to veto the measure. Now, districts will have to siphon money from education budgets to cover the cost of mandated bus service for students who live at least 1.5 miles away from school. Busing students back and forth to school is even more costly in the sprawling districts of rural southern Illinois.

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