Approximately 5,000 magnet students in Duval County who will see their school bus service cut during the upcoming school year may have a fee option to consider following offers made by the district's three private school bus contractors. But the reductions in service don't end there.
Duval County Public School serving the greater Jacksonville, Fla., area is addressing a total budget shortfall of approximately $90 million for the upcoming 2011-2012 school year by making a host of cuts, including to transportation services. A school district spokesman said the cuts, which are district wide, are in addition to $150 million in reduced services over the past four school years.
Eliminating all magnet school home-to-school transportation and magnet after-school activity routes could save $10 million, more than half of the at least $26.3 million in proposed transportation cuts, according to the district's Web site. The plan is to phase in those cuts over a three- to four-year period by reducing from the most crowded to the least crowded schools based on projection utilization for the coming school year.
DCPS is also reducing low-ridership, high-mileage routes by setting maximum, round-trip route distances of 35 miles. This figure accounts for the furthest distance traveled between school sites, according to district spokesman Matt Saffer. Additionally, the district is looking to cut all extracurricular trips district-wide to save another $6.3 million.
Paul Soares, the chief of operations support for DCPS, said First Student, Durham School Services and Student Transportation of America all offered to provide the magnet busing for a fee. Parents received notification of the offer in late June.
While a spokesman for STA said the exact fee schedule remains to be determined, Soares presented a scenario of $6.25 per student per day if there are at lest 40 students per bus. Below that number of riders per bus could increase the daily fee to $8.25 per student.
At this report, STA had already received 100 submissions "and counting" from parents interested in paying the fee.
The three contractors, together, provide all busing for DCPS, including regular-route and special-needs routes. Soares added that 840 school buses roll across the district each school day. A couple of years ago, the fleet size was reduced to about 900 total buses, including spares, from 1,000 buses. Two years ago, DCPS also increased its school bus ridership eligibility requirements to two miles from the previous 1.5 miles. That change meets the state's minimum requirement for how far students must live from school to receive school bus services.
The district is also looking to move to a four-day school week to reduce the budget by another $7 million. Meanwhile, school district employees are facing mandated furloughs that could produce $2.5 million in savings per day, and the district said reductions in employee benefits could save another $21.1 million.