Starting next month, approximately 2,400 additional students in the Lakota Local School District will receive transportation services.
The expanded bus service the district plans to roll out Feb. 10 is the first of several changes area residents will see as a result of the district’s recent levy approval.
Using the $1.2 million of levy funds reserved for transportation services, Lakota was able to offer busing to students in grades two through six outside a one-mile radius of their school.
That brings the district’s total transportation budget to $11 million, according to Chris Passarge, chief operating officer for the district.
The addition of the 2,400 students means there will be approximately 10,000 students receiving transportation in the district, Passarge said.
“We are proud to be delivering exactly what we promised during the months leading up to November’s election,” he said. “We are using the $1.2 million we’d budgeted for transportation services to impact as many students as possible.”
There are approximately 7,100 Lakota students who are without district-provided transportation — 1,400 in grades two through six, 700 in grades seven and eight and 5,000 in grades nine through 12.
To provide transportation services to all students in grades kindergarten through 12, Lakota would need to spend approximately $4 million more than its costs now, Passarge said.
That’s a price tag the district cannot afford, according to Julie Shaffer, president of Lakota’s Board of Education.
“We don’t want to institute something that’s not going to be sustainable,” she said. “If we bring back all that busing, we’ll instantly go into deficit spending, and that’s not something we want to do.”
Cuts first went into effect in January 2011 as a phase-in of the 1-mile exclusion zones. In August 2012, Lakota went into full state minimums, which are 2-mile exclusion zones.
Lakota has 133 routes, which require 133 drivers, not including substitute drivers. It operates on a 3-tier system of early start schools, middle start schools and late start schools, and not all drivers have a route on all three tiers, Passarge said.
“The reinstatement of transportation has allowed for us to route to fill all three tiers first, and then add new drivers on top of those to fulfill the needs,” Passarge said. “We are adding seven new routes to give us 140 total routes. These will be new drivers or drivers that were formerly subs.”
The district also has several drivers that are eligible for retirement and must look at filling those positions, as well.
In all, Lakota plans to hire approximately 25 new drivers to meet the needs of the transportation system, Passarge said.
Earlier this school year, district officials identified some bus route efficiencies to be able to provide all early childhood students transportation services at no additional cost. Those with students in grades seven and eight and residing within two miles of their school building do not receive bus services. High school students are not eligible for busing.
“We did our best to stretch the additional dollars as far as we could,” Passarge said. “We will reassess new enrollment figures against our current routes each school year to determine if we can expand services any farther.”
Families may determine their eligibility for the expanded services by entering their home address in the custom map on the transportation section of Lakota’s website.
Transportation exclusion zone maps for each elementary building are available on the website, as well. Students’ specific bus route information, including pick-up and drop off locations and times, will be available Feb. 3.