The Pueblo West View

School bus route changes

Keeping teachers in front of students, and classes at reasonable size – that’s what Pueblo School District 70 administration is striving for and why bus routes were reduced this school year.

Director of Student Services Greg Keasling said the bottom line is, District 70 has been drying up its savings account over the past several years because of a shortfall of funding from the state of Colorado.

With savings bottoming out, the District had to find a way to save more money this school year.

“The state of Colorado has short-funded District 70 more than $36 million since 2009,” Keasling said.

“That’s how much money they owe us from not giving us the Amendment 23 money that they owe us. And how we’ve coped with that all along is spending the money in our savings account.

“We’ve continued to grow in the district, with more kids and more state mandates, but less and less money. So guess what? We have nothing left but to cut more.”

Keasling said the decision to make the cuts in bussing was difficult, but seemed the best option of what was available.

Several years ago when District 70 began contracting transportation services with First Student, they agreed to pay benefits to the drivers for a few years.

This year, those benefits – about $198,000 – were cut, along with about $300,000 in costs from the route changes.

Transportation services via bus are no longer provided for elementary students within a one-mile radius of their home school, and a one and a half mile radius for middle school students.

Keasling said every bus route costs a minimum of $42,000 to operate, and cutting about 10 routes this year has saved the District a chunk of money.

“I hate doing this,” he said.

“But the kids closest to the schools can find a quick way to get to the school instead of parents who may already drive their kids 10 miles just to get to a bus stop.

“We are doing the best we can with very limited resources.

“We’re in the hole and we’ve cut everything else off except our arms.

“Our primary goal is to teach students, so we cut bus routes so that we can keep teachers in front of kids.”

A total of $800,000 was cut from this year’s budget, which includes the bussing changes as well as several vacant job positions that were not filled, among other trims.

“Consider this – District 70 and Canon City are the two lowest funded (school districts) in the state, because we don’t have any mill levy overrides to support the insufficient funding from the state,” Keasling said.

“And Colorado is one of the lower states (in the country), so what does that say about our per-pupil funding? We’re at the bottom.”

Keasling said despite funding being at the bottom of the barrel, District 70 administration continues to be amazed at how much teachers and staff do with so little, and how fantastic the students that go through District 70 schools are.

He said he understands that families might be unhappy about the change in bussing routes, and have had to make adjustments and sacrifices to accommodate that change. The District mailed letters to every family, dated July 1, to give families sufficient time before school started to make arrangements. Individual principals also sent out a recorded message to families about the letter and the changes outlined in it.

“And we encourage all parents, if they feel their walk area is unsafe for school, then don’t walk. Talk to neighbors, friends, other moms and dads and get to school a different way. We are doing the best we can for our students.”

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The Pueblo West View