FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield-Suisun School District this fall could be the latest local district to do away with home-to-school transportation.
As part of closing a $6.5 million deficit, the school board voted to eliminate its bus program, effectively issuing pink slips to all 41 district bus drivers. The state budget proposal does not include funding for transportation, so schools who want to keep the program will have to go it alone.
“All of us in here have been pinked-slipped,” said bus driver Allison Smith in the bus-driver break room Friday.
Smith, a 16-year driver, is considering looking for other work. If she is one of the drivers who keep their job, her hours will certainly be reduced.
The district’s 41 bus drivers take 1,800 of the district’s approximate 23,000 students to school each day. Federal mandates require the district to continue its busing of special education students, which is about 550 students and will require anywhere from 26 to 32 bus drivers, said Al Regis, director of transportation.
Regis see the biggest problem being the district’s rural schools and on the west side of Interstate 80. About 270 students are bused to Green Valley Middle School and some of them come from over the freeway. Students who live on the other side of the freeway would have to walk through areas with no sidewalks, including the freeway overpass.
Also on the west side, some students attend Rodriguez High School and live miles away, Regis said.
“It puts more of a burden on parents and students,” he said.
This comes as the district is unsure if it will have crossing guards at schools next year. The Fairfield City Council voted to stop funding crossing guards and the district is looking at a possible volunteer force or putting them at the most dangerous intersections. Regis said the district is asking more students to walk or car pool while cutting crossing guards.
“It’s a double whammy,” he said.
In 2009-10, the Vacaville School District did away with its bus program. Kari Sousa, interim chief business official, said the district could not cover the cost even though it was fee-based. It phased it out over time.
“I think the community was starting to learn other ways of managing,” Sousa said.
It’s different in other parts of the state. Sousa, while consulting for a school district in Siskiyous County, said transportation was more a priority because some students were a two-hour car ride from school. Parents could not dedicate the time to drive them, Sousa said.
“It’s probably not as controversial a topic in Solano County,” Sousa said.
Fairfield-Suisun Superintendent Jacki Cottingim-Dias said the district lost $600,000 this year after the state decided to change how it funds transportation. It reduced funding per each student by $42 to fund transportation, which benefited smaller districts with greater transportation needs. For larger districts like Fairfield-Suisun with neighborhood schools, the loss was great.
“We are going to have to turn to each other and get through this,” Cottingim-Dias said. “Is it good? No. Is it preferred? Absolutely not. But it is what it is at this point.”
George Guynn, president of the Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group, said the district should stick to its core mission of educating children. He called services like transportation, day care and high school athletics a “nanny state” and the cause of the district’s budget problems.
Most private schools, Guynn said, do not offer home-to-school bus services.
“You can’t be all things to all people,” he said. “That’s what the school is trying to do.”
Reach David DeBolt at 427-6935 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/daviddebolt.