Morning and afternoon traffic around Manteca Unified schools will become more congested when in-class instruction resumes.
That’s because there will be 1,200 students that will need to find a way to get to school.
The school board on Tuesday reaffirmed their decision three weeks ago to eliminate to and from school busing for non-special education students and non-homeless students after mandatory COVID-19 rules for bus use made busing a cost prohibitive budget buster.
The board, in their first reading formally implementing the busing policy changes, did retain language that allows the superintendent to make an exception if it is determined that it is too dangerous for a student to walk to school and there are no other options.
It is not clear how such a request would play out. In previous years when busing was in place for K-9 students that lived more than a mile from campus and high school students that were more than 1½ miles from campus if a student within the walking range had to cross an extremely dangerous stretch of roadway parents could ask that they be bused.
The prime example was students that lived within a mile of the rural New Haven School campus northeast of Manteca. Several of them resided in homes north of French Camp Road that are within a mile of the school. But because French Camp Road has traffic that often exceeds 55 mph as well as significant truck moves as well as being subject to dense fog in the winter, exceptions to the bus rule were made for several students.
It is not clear now that busing is just restricted to those students districts are mandated by the state to transport to and from school — special education and homeless kids — how such exceptions would be made or how busing would be arranged.
The decision was a nod to Centers for Disease Control guidelines that school districts in California are required to implement that would increase busing costs from $6 million a year to roughly $30 million. The board would have had to eliminate virtually all spending except for salaries as well as benefits for all district employees. The school district has a general fund budget of $256 million of which roughly 85 percent goes to cover salaries, benefits, and retirement costs for nearly 1,100 teachers and 2,200 part-time and full-time support workers from paraprofessionals and custodian staff to bus drivers and others. That 85 percent staff cost is typical for California public schools.
The CDC guidelines imposing 3-foot separation would require the district’s large capacity buses designed for 84 passengers to be capped at 24 riders. The smaller buses used primarily for special education routes that carry 20 will only be allowed 8 maximum on board.
The district drastically reduced to and from school busing in 2010 due to severe state budget cuts triggered by the mortgage crisis that led to the Great Recession. The district at that time went to only busing elementary students that resided more than a mile from campus as well as high school students living more than 1½ miles from their school.
The majority of the 1,200 students that will need to find a way to get to school are in the rural areas of the district primarily south, north, and west of Manteca as well as high school students in the French Camp area. There are students, however in certain parts of west Manteca and in the southwest part of the city that reside outside of the no bus zones in place since 2010.
The district will not be saving any money by dropping busing for 1,200 students. Under CDC guidelines it may take the entire busing budget that is in place and then some to transport the 465 special education students they are mandated by the state to bus.
That’s because in order to bus all of the special education students to school on time it will requiring pressing all of the large buses into service.
Special education busing must be door to door. That means the bus pulls up to a student’s house to pick them up and drop them off. That significantly increases the time — and cost — to operate a bus route.
Complicating it further is the school district cannot run a full size bus down a cul-de-sac or a dead-end street due to the door-to-door requirement and the need to turn the bus around.
Manteca, Lathrop, and Weston Ranch residents will have 84-passenger buses going down neighborhood streets where special education students live twice a day when students are allowed back in campuses.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org