Katy Independent School District outside of Houston announced it is cutting transportation for 6,600 students next school year, but unlike similar moves across the country, the decision was not motivated by budget cuts.
Katy ISD has experienced large shortages of available bus drivers in recent years, which prompted the school board to eliminate 52 of the district's 546 total bus routes. This means 6,600 students of the total 32,000 who were bused during the 2011-2012 school year will have to walk or find another way to and from school next year, but none of the district's 374 drivers will lose their jobs, and hours aren't expected to be cut.
"We’ve had a real difficult time this past school year finding enough drivers to meet our route needs," said Steve Stanford, Katy's director of communications. "There's not enough fill-ins."
The district is now able to create a pool of drivers who will be available every day to fill in if another driver calls in sick. Previously, shortages were filled by other transportation office staff, bus technicians or other school employees who also hold CDLs with the school bus endorsement.
While not designed as a cost-cutting measure, Stanford explained that an unintended consequence of the route reduction is a budget boon. An allotted $3.5 million in bond money for annual bus replacements is no longer necessary, and operating costs will be reduced by $250,000 to $300,000 because of fuel, maintenance and regular service savings. The district uses Edulog for its routing.
The state of Texas only funds transportation of students who live more than two miles from their local school, a formula that other districts in and around Houston use to determine who rides the school bus and who does not. But Katy ISD has traditionally opted to bus all elementary, junior high and high school students who live within three-tenths of a mile from school. One reason is that Katy residents are generally middle class, as only 31 percent of the student enrollment is eligible for free or reduced lunch, said Stanford.
But even in eliminating the 52 routes for the coming 2012–2013 school year, Katy ISD will continue to offer busing to all students who live a half-mile away, regardless of their grade level. Stanford said the district will continue to foot the entire transportation bill as it remains ineligible for state assistance.
"Even with our change, we're still providing some pretty good bus service," he added.
Katy ISD is also opening up four new neighborhood campuses next school year, and Stanford noted that the majority of those assigned students live within walking distance. Those who live more than a half mile away will be offered busing. The district will also continue to provide busing for students who live within walking distance of school bus along hazardous walking routes.