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Three districts slash bus routes

Saugus Union, Sulphur Springs and Castaic Union reduce transportation services for students

Posted: July 28, 2009 10:13 p.m.
Updated: July 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Elementary school children exit school buses and head to class in the Santa Clarita Valley. Three local school districts, Saugus Union, Sulphur Springs and Castaic Union, were forced to cut their school bus service due to the state budget crisis.

 
State budget cuts in education have forced three local elementary school districts to cut school bus service.

Instead, school officials are encouraging families to carpool and walk to school.

"When you have to make some really hard decisions - the classroom versus transportation - we went with the impact on transportation," said Marcia Dains, director of administrative services for Castaic Union School District.

The reductions in school bus service at Castaic Union, Sulphur Springs and Saugus Union school districts will not affect bus transportation for special education students at any California school districts.

Special education bus service is mandated by the state.

Saugus Union cuts
Saugus Union eliminated six routes which served about 450 general-education students, said Bob Cutting, assistant superintendent of business.

"We were offering a service that was not required by law. Those are the ones we dropped," Cutting said.

The elimination saves the district $350,000 to $400,000, he said.

"If there's any way we can protect our main programs by eliminating non-required programs, that's what we're doing."

Cutting said about eight to 10 drivers - who work through a vendor hired by Saugus Union - will lose their jobs.

Transportation costs Saugus Union at least $1 million annually, with $754,000 of that coming from district's general fund to make up for the state's shortfall in funding transportation, he said.

"We just can't afford it anymore," he said.

Sulphur Springs cuts
Sulphur Springs will eliminate seven bus routes and service for Golden Oak and Fair Oaks Ranch community schools for the upcoming school year, said Vicky Myers, assistant superintendent of business services.

"In order for us to maintain the current level, it requires a $686,000 contribution from the general fund," Myers said. "That would force the reduction and elimination of other programs."

Golden Oak and Fair Oaks Ranch schools have a majority of students who are within safe walking distance to school, she said.

"We're extremely proud of our transportation department," she said. "It has been the pride of our district. For trustees to even look at this has been very difficult."

Castaic Union cuts
Castaic Union cut three school bus routes and eliminated three bus driver positions, Dains said.
Eight routes are left.

The cuts translate into a $100,000 savings per school year.

School officials expect about 65 percent of school transportation funding will be eliminated under the latest version of the state budget.

Bus service is not fully funded by state money and parent fees, so it falls on district general funds to underwrite it, Dains said.

About 700 general-education students from Castaic Union School District rode the school bus during the 2008-09 school year, Dains said, costing the district $700,000.

The route reductions came as the district increased the distance families can qualify for bus service.

A student now has to live two miles away from the district elementary schools to qualify for bus transportation, Dains said.

Previously, students could ride the bus if they lived three-fourths of a mile away.

"If you live two miles or less from the elementary school, you would have to provide your own transportation," she said.

For Castaic Middle School, the distance has been extended from one mile to 3.25 miles, she said.

"To be fiscally responsible, this is what we felt we needed to do," said John Kunak, board president for the Castaic Union School District.

"I don't think it's going to have much impact."

Castaic Elementary School never offered bus service for general-education students as the school was constructed in a neighborhood that makes it easy for families to walk to school, Dains said.

Northlake Hills and Live Oak elementary schools, as well as Castaic Middle School, will continue to have bus service, she said.

Transportation options
Without the traditional yellow bus transporting students from home to school, families will need to turn to other options.

"In most cases, their options would be carpooling," Dains said. "There are some that could walk."

Students can also take the city's transit service, which has bus stops near Hillcrest Parkway in Castaic.

For Sulphur Springs, the bus service cuts mean students walking to school together or with their families, Myers said.

Biking to school is another option, she said.

All three school districts have been notifying parents through phone messages and mail.

"We want them to have as much time and notification as possible," Myers said.

Newhall, Hart not affected
Newhall School District's bus service to Old Orchard, Peachland, McGrath and Wiley Canyon elementary schools remains intact, said Superintendent Marc Winger.

The district offers bus service because busy streets and intersections can make it dangerous for students coming and leaving school, he said.

The district serves about 370 general-education students and 80 special-education students, he said.

While the state provides $63,907 for transportation, Newhall School District spends $1,099,878 from its general fund to pay for transportation, Winger said.

The William S. Hart Union High School District eliminated school bus service for general-education students nearly a decade ago as a cost-cutting effort, said Hart district spokeswoman Pat Willett.

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