Nixon releases school transportation funds, but Mehlville still eyes possible busing cuts

Release of funds could total $40,000, superintendent says.

By EVAN YOUNG

The Mehlville School District will benefit some from recently released state transportation funds, but officials still are eyeing possible busing cuts in the face of a $4.8 million budget shortfall.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon last week released $7.5 million to state school districts to help cover transportation costs. That amounts to a little more than 10 percent of the $70 million in school transportation funds previously withheld to balance the current state budget.

The additional funding will help schools cover fuel costs, which have risen roughly 10 percent since the start of the school year, according to state Budget Director Linda Luebbering. The release of funds was possible because revenue collections are slightly better than originally anticipated, Luebbering stated in a news release.

The move could mean an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 in transportation funds for Mehlville, Superintendent Terry Noble said.

“It’s about putting 10 percent back in of the 50 percent they cut …,” Noble said. “It all depends on the calculation. They’ll run the calculation and tell us how much we’re going to get based on the number of miles, routes and all that. So $30,000 to $40,000 is our best estimate right now.”

The news comes as district officials are crafting a recommendation for the Board of Education on how to make up a projected $4.8 million deficit in Mehlville’s fiscal 2012 budget.

A budget projection presented to the board at a recent work session shows district revenues falling short of expenditures by $4,825,000 in fiscal 2012. Board members directed administrators to recommend how to offset that projected deficit with a combination of budget cuts and spending down the district’s operating reserve.

The administration’s proposal should be ready for the board’s consideration next month, Noble said.

Mehlville voters in November defeated Proposition C, a proposed 88-cent tax-rate increase that was promoted as the funding vehicle to move the district forward through improvements in such areas as staffing, programs, technology and safety.

After the election, Noble and others said Prop C also could have helped maintain the district in the event of budget shortfalls.

Officials may include transportation cuts as part of their recommendation to the board. A nearly $7 million contingency plan approved by the board last spring identifies eliminating free bus service for a cost savings of $2,297,000.

Director of Transportation Diane Wedel earlier this month presented the board with five cost-saving scenarios. All of them would require the district to switch from its current three-tier bus schedule to a four-tier schedule, which would affect starting and dismissal times at some schools.

The options presented to the board include:

• Eliminate 12 drivers but retain the current number of bus routes for $324,000 in annual savings.

• End all free bus service to students living within 1 mile of their school, which would mean eliminating 11 drivers and 33 routes; no transportation for 1,602 students and $297,000 in annual savings.

• End all free service to students living within 1.25 miles of their school, which would mean eliminating 17 drivers and 49 routes; no transportation for 2,475 students and $459,000 in annual savings.

• End all free service to students living within 1.5 miles of their school, which would mean eliminating 21 drivers and 62 routes; no transportation for 3,274 students and $567,000 in annual savings.

• End all free service to students living within 2 miles of their school, which would mean eliminating 24 drivers and 96 routes; no transportation for 5,058 students and $648,000 in annual savings.

Wedel and some board members noted, however, that some of the cost savings likely would be spent on crossing guards and additional safety measures to address increased traffic at schools.

State law requires school districts to provide transportation to students living more than 3.5 miles from school.

The district five years ago nearly eliminated free busing for students living within that radius. The board voted in March 2006 to charge $375 per student for bus transportation for those who live within 3.5 miles of their school.

The proposal was one of several the board considered to reach $4 million in budget cuts for the 2006-2007 school year following the defeat of a proposed 97-cent tax-rate increase, Proposition A, that February.

Charging for transportation was among the recommendations made by task force study groups appointed by then-Superintendent Tim Ricker to explore expenditure reductions in the event Prop A was not approved by voters.

In April 2006, the board reversed its decision, approving a motion made and seconded by recently elected board members Tom Diehl and Micheal Ocello to restore free bus transportation for all students.

However, the board also voted to streamline bus service in the 2006-2007 school year, switching from a three-tier bus schedule to a four-tier schedule and eliminating some bus stops. The district switched back to a three-tier bus schedule for the 2007-2008 school year.