For the first time in nearly a decade, freshmen Lakota students will have busing restored next school year after the school board Monday unanimously approved spending $2.7 million more per year on transportation.
The board’s action means starting in August thousands of Lakota freshmen and their families who now drive them will also have a bus option for getting to and from school.
“This is a pain point in our community,” said Lakota Board of Education President Julie Shaffer. “Since high school busing was eliminated in 2011, the board has had to weigh the financial implications of fully reinstating transportation with the requests of our community.”
“Through the district’s diligent fiscal responsibility over the years, we are now in a better position to offer busing to our freshman students.”
The new transportation plan will create 34 new bus routes for Lakota East and Lakota West Freshman School students.
The additional transportation cost will be $1,870,994 per year for all Lakota freshman for the 2020-21 school year, said district officials.
Under Ohio law, public school districts must also provide busing for students attending non-public schools within a 30-minute drive.
Lakota officials projected this will mean operating an additional 15 bus routes to seven area, non-public schools at an annual cost of $825,439 during next school year.
The total transportation cost increase for 2020-21 school year will be about $2.7 million, said school officials.
Lakota, which enrolls 16,500 students and is the largest district in Butler County, has an annual operating budget of $177 million. The 22-school district currently spends more than $12 million on busing about 10,000 students in grades kindergarten through eighth.
Ohio requires public school systems to provide busing for K-8 students, leaving the provision of any further busing up to individual districts.
Lakota officials also considered options to restore busing for grades 10, 11 and 12 but did not.
“The subject of high school busing has been brought up time and time again through community conversations, coffee chats, board meetings and other stakeholder interactions,” Shaffer said. “The majority of the decisions the school board makes stem from these types of discussions and what we believe is in the best interest of our students while balancing our financial objectives.”
The meeting included a prolonged discussion among the board – including members Lynda O’Connor and Todd Parnell expressing concerns about the cost of busing in the district’s projected budget deficit forecast to reach a total of $7.5 million by 2024.
In response to those financial concerns, Lakota Treasurer Jenni Logan proposed the district leadership would come to the board later with a plan to address an initial, projected budget deficit of more than $1 million scheduled to begin in 2022.
“I am pleased that our fiscal responsibility has enabled Lakota’s board to be in a position to approve busing for freshman students,” said Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller. “Our parents have asked for transportation to be restored for many years and now we are able to deliver.”