School Busing Problems

Published in the Hollister Free Lance, October 19, 1998
Dear Editor:

And this year's Bureaucratic Speaking (B.S.) Award goes to (drum roll, please) -- Hollister School District Superintendent Tom Andrade. Tom is being recognized for his statement dealing with the very long walks some very young children are forced to make to school.

In the October 12 Free Lance, he said, "If we were to make special deals we'd end up busing a lot of people and we don't have regulations that allow us to deal with just one individual in a special circumstance."

He did not say it would be prohibitively expensive to deal with individual cases, which I think most people could understand. No, he said that they "don't have regulations" that allow that. Do they have any regulations that DISALLOW it? And why would you need a regulation to deal with somebody? It's that kind of bureaucratic reasoning that gives government a bad name.

Note also that he said they would end up busing a lot of people, and then said they couldn't deal with just one person. Is it a lot of people or only one, Mr. Andrade? If it's a lot of people, it sounds like there's a big problem out there.

In my opinion, no 7-year-old should be walking one mile to school. Mr. Andrade says, in a classic understatement, that one mile "is a pretty good walk for a kindergartner. But we have to draw the line somewhere."

In response, I ask why there has to be only one line drawn? Students get more and more challenging classes as they progress through the grades. Why should the busing radius be the same for all grades? Why can't there be perhaps a one- or two-block radius for kindergarten, maybe a quarter-mile for fourth graders, and the full one-mile walk for eighth graders?

You could send parents "bus passes" for their children based on the children's grade level and distance from school, and the bus driver would only let children with the bus pass on.

This would require more driver time -- and maybe even more drivers and buses -- but that could actually be made to pay for itself with a slight change. Instead of bus drivers disallowing riders without bus passes, allow them on a pay-per-ride basis. You could also sell bus passes to the parents who didn't want their children walking to school. I believe some students in this county already pay to ride the bus, so this wouldn't be a new concept.

The women cited in the article were paying $20-25 per week to have their kids taken to and from school, and I think if the school provided busing for those kids and others, that fee could be a lot less.

For example, assume a bus driver makes $15 per hour (which I believe is a high estimate) and works three hours per day (1.5 hours in the morning and again in the afternoon). That's $45 per day, or $225 per week. If the bus carried 20 paying fares each day, the salary could be covered for less than $12 per week. Even including gas and maintenance, I would think you could keep the cost well under $20 per week. (If my guesses are wrong, feel free to give me the real numbers, Mr. Andrade.)

To be honest, when I grew up in Michigan, I think there was a one mile radius, too. However, houses weren't as densely packed as in California, so fewer students had to walk. Also, the times were quite different. We didn't worry about kidnapping much back then, schools didn't require security cameras, and things like drive-by shootings were unheard of.

Mr. Andrade said "transportation is not a right, it's a privilege." While that may be true, given that children are required to attend school, the school district should do everything possible to make that privilege available to as many people as possible, even if it requires some contributions from the parents. To claim you need regulations to do this is bureaucracy at its worst. The award is in the mail.

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