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Schools seek $32 million for transportation costs


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POSTED: Thursday, October 29, 2009

Facing an unprecedented reduction in school days and deep budget cuts, state Board of Education members got more bad news: They need an additional $32 million in the next two years to meet rising student transportation costs.

The board's Committee on Budget and Fiscal Accountability yesterday recommended approval to seek an emergency appropriation of $12 million from the Legislature for fiscal 2010.

The committee also approved a request for $20 million more in student transportation expenses to be included in its fiscal 2011 supplemental budget.

The budget requests go to the board for further review.

The cost of student transportation contracts has been rising by about 15 percent annually, said Randy Moore, the department's assistant superintendent at the Office of School Facilities and Support Services.

Moore, interviewed later, said that without the $12 million, the department would be unable to pay bus companies providing student transportation beyond March.

The department plans to meet annual budget reductions of close to $127.7 million, including $117.4 million in 2010-11 through school furloughs, reductions in force and salary savings.

For the 2009-11 biennium, the department has imposed 17 Furlough Fridays at public schools on a 10-month cycle and 21 Furlough Fridays for those on a 12-month cycle each year.

The 2010-11 budget proposal also includes a 12 percent reduction in the hours of part-time teachers and tutors and a 5 percent reduction in equipment and supplies, including computers and books.

Board member Breene Harimoto, who voted against the emergency appropriation, said he wanted assurances that the department has tried to solve the problem of rising costs before seeking funds from the Legislature.

“;I see the bus costs escalating. It's almost out of control,”; Harimoto said.

Harimoto reminded board members they had voted against raising student bus fares — an action that might not be viewed well by legislators.

Board member Donna Ikeda said she wants the department to look again at reducing and consolidating school bus routes.

Ikeda said she felt the board needs to look in more detail at the amount of money that goes into school instruction.

“;Schools should be the last to be touched, not the first,”; she said.

Board member Mary Cochran said she was in favor of sending the transportation requests to the Legislature and against further budget cuts in instruction.

“;You can't bleed a turnip or rock,”; she said.

Moore said the department was saving $6 million annually through recent cost-savings, including furlough days and the reduction of bus routes.