Local school districts have been forced to consider transportation costs in the face of declining state aid, and if the state Board of Education has its way schools here could face even more issues.
The Illinois State Board of Education is considering legislation that would eliminate a mandate for school districts to pay for some transportation costs.
"If they do that and they cut off the funding entirely, we’re going to need to make a decision about whether we bus our kids or not," said Supt. Lawrence Wyllie, of the Lincoln-Way High School District 210, at a recent school board meeting.
Currently, most districts are required to fund the busing costs for students who live more than 1.5 miles away from their school. The state reimburses school districts for some of the required transportation costs, but that percentage has dwindled.
In 2008, for example, the New Lenox School District 122 got about 75 cents to the dollar back; that dropped to 50 percent reimbursement last year for the $2.8 million the district spent on busing.
According to the Rockford Register Star, two funding options are being considered:
The first option: calculate reimbursement based on the state’s average per-pupil count, multiplied against the number of students transported in the district. The second option: calculate reimbursement based on the state’s average per-mile cost, multiplied against the total number of miles traveled within a district.
State funding for student transportation was slashed 42 percent in 2011, and the state has asked to keep the funding level flat, the Associated Press reported.
If new funding proposals were enacted, it could mean that school districts could charge families for busing, even they live more than 1.5 miles away. Currently, districts may charge busing fees for students living within the 1.5 miles, which local districts already have taken advantage of to combat the cuts.
As the state figures out its financial mess, Wyllie seems confident something will change in regard to transportation funding. And that has him ready to consider the current costs.
In recent years, local school districts in Frankfort, Mokena and New Lenox have consolidated busing services with District 210 as a cost-cutting measure, but as state reimbursements continue to dip the schools have had to look at other options.
One area Wyllie mentioned at last week's District 210 board meeting was funding out-of-state travel for teams and clubs. At most meetings, the board approves a few travel requests from coaches and advisers for various tournaments and events.
Wyllie said it would be possible to require the team or club to pay its way to these events. That's just another idea among many that Wyllie said must at least been considered given the state's situation.
"We would save a considerable amount of money," he said, but didn't immediately have a figure available for the amount spent on such trips. "All of those costs mount up. At some point we’re going to have to talk about this."
Regardless of what happens in Springfield, Wyllie said the team and club busing for outside events could come under the microscope.
“If something is part of the regular schedule, we should pay for that—no question," he said. "But if, say, the cross country runners want to practice at the Indiana dunes, we’ve got to look at that type of stuff.”