In a move that is the first of its kind in Colorado, the Douglas County School District proposes a charge to students for riding the bus to and from school. The fee is a 50 cent per-ride charge based on usage for a one-way ride.
The transportation fee is among several increased fees on the table for the coming school year.
The school board on April 6 reviewed a new fee schedule for the 2010-11 school year, which is expected to generate as much as $3.8 million for the school district. The increased fees will help offset millions in shortfalls resulting from the statewide recession, according to the school district website.
The district already faced budget cuts of $5 million for the coming school year when it received word its state funding will be reduced as a result of the School Finance Act. The Colorado bill was approved in March and is expected to be signed by the governor at the end of the legislative session, said Dianna Miguez, Douglas County School District communications specialist. The bill resulted in an anticipated $26 million shortfall to Douglas County students, according to the district website.
Faced with a $31 million reduction in the budget, the board worked with a 2010 community survey to develop a new fee schedule. Of the 5,100 respondents whose children ride the bus, the survey indicated that 51 percent would be willing to pay 50 cents a ride. If a student rides the bus both ways every instructional day, the family can expect to pay $173 for transportation during the school year.
The district estimates it has about 17,000 daily riders and an annual transportation operational budget of $19 million, said Susan Meek, Douglas County School District communications director. The district aims for a revenue increase of $2 million per year from transportation fees. The actual number will vary depending on how many students ride the bus and whether they take a round-trip ride, Miguez said.
While all Douglas County families pay to support the cost of transportation, the bus ride is not a required service, Meek said. The decision to impact a fee for transportation was among many options the district could choose from, she said.
“With less revenue provided by the state due to the state revenue shortfall, the district could either cut back on current service levels, take money from other areas to support transportation, or charge fees to raise additional money to maintain the current level of service,” Meek said. “(Transportation) is a service the district feels is important and worth maintaining. Families who need to utilize bus service will be asked to pay a fee to maintain this current service.”
The district’s proposal outlining how the fee will be impacted is on its website. Families whose children ride the bus will be charged every three months, with an invoice detailing the number of rides for the preceding quarter. The school district will track those rides through an identification card driven by radio frequency technology.
The district will install a GPS unit on every bus and riders will be issued a ZPASS card. The GPS unit will scan the card when the rider boards.
If a student loses his or her ZPASS card, parents are asked to notify the school district within 48 hours and no charges will be incurred. The first card is issued at no cost to the family, but replacement cards are $5.
The GPS system will cost the district $391,000, with $170,000 of the cost offset by an equipment donation from the Democratic National Convention. The convention used Douglas County school buses during the 2008 DNC, said Kellie Johnson, secretary to the director of communications.
The transportation fee will be charged to every student who rides the bus, with the exception of those students who qualify for the national free and reduced lunch program and those with an individual education plan. If a student must be transported to attend a required class or curriculum off-campus, there will be no charge.
“If transportation is required as part of their education, they will not be charged,” Johnson said.
On May 15, parents whose children ride the bus can obtain an application for transportation services for the 2010-11 school year; the applications are due June 15. ZPASS cards and instructions will be mailed to families in July, and the first quarterly bill will arrive in the mail in October.
Additional fees new to district parents this year are a $25 fee for virtual/online learning, an increase in the middle school athletic fee from $50 to $70 per sport and an increase in the high school athletic fee from $100 to $150 per sport.
The revenue expected from fee assessments is part of the goal to meet more than $100 million in budget reductions from 2007 through 2011, according to the district’s fee presentation.
The district will host the last of three meetings to discuss fees at Castle Rock Middle School on May 6 at 7 p.m.