Ripon Unified — unlike Manteca Unified — charges for to and from school bus service.
The cost is a dollar a day or $175 per student for the entire year with a maximum per family of $450 annually. Rates are higher when the bus pass is purchased by a semester with the cost being $100 per student and a $300 maximum for a family for a semester.
The implementation of bus fees is how Ripon Unified dealt with a 2011 decision by Gov. Brown to eliminate to and from school funding as a way to get the state out of deficit spending.
Manteca Unified took a different route.
They increased walking distance from home to school by a half a mile. That means today a kindergarten through eighth grader student residing 1.25 miles away from the school in their attendance area can ride the bus. The distance for high school students is 2.5 miles or more.
Parents can request an exemption to the rule and have their child picked up providing certain criteria are met, if a bus route goes in that direction, and it doesn’t add time to the run.
The reduction of to and from school bus service is one of the cuts made nine years ago to keep Manteca Unified afloat as revenues plunged that is likely never to come back.
The 2011 move cut $248 million annually statewide for K-12 busing leaving only money set aside for transporting special needs students. As a result the to-and-from school busing Manteca Unified now has in place encroaches $1.4 million yearly on the general fund.
Charging isn’t a viable option.
Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer noted that’s because 62 percent of the district’s 23,900 students qualify for free and reduced lunches. Under federal law, they can’t be charged for transportation. That’s a stark contrast to Ripon where a relatively small amount of students qualify for free lunches.
Bus service is one example of how permanent changes in how schools are funded that occurred as the result of the Great Rescission have changed how local school districts — including Manteca Unified — spend tax dollars.
In the case of to and from school transportation, the district can’t afford not to offer it. Not only is there a significant amount of rural students that live miles from the nearest school that the district would be risking average daily attendance funding if it becomes difficult for them to get to class, but the larger buses carry a significant number of students that fall under special needs programs,
“Their parents have opted that they ride the regular buses,” Messer said. “But if we eliminated the buses they have the right under the law to have their child transported to and from school.”
That to-and-from-school service is also more expensive as it is mandated to be from door to school.
One of the district’s moves to save money during cutbacks was to establish their own fleet of smaller buses for the door-to-school, transportation of special needs students instead of contracting it all out.
Messer noted that to and from school buses for non-special needs students are not mandated. As a result, some parents who move their families into Manteca Unified are surprised that it is offered.
“There are a lot of districts that don’t provide transportation,” Messer said.
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