School district considers ways to reduce buses

Buses serving Hood River County School District rest at the transportation facility in Odell.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
Buses serving Hood River County School District rest at the transportation facility in Odell.

The typical family weekday schedule may be in for a change this fall.

Schools in the Hood River County School District currently start close together, in a 15-minute period at around 8 a.m. The district would shift schools to a staggered schedule as part of a plan that would reduce the overall number of school bus runs.

School Supt. Dan Goldman on Wednesday briefed the HRCSD Board of Directors on changes he plans to present to the board for consideration as a way to reduce the cost of school bus replacement.

Goldman said that he and the transportation department and school principals are formulating a series of proposed options, including staggered starts, which he said “are not uncommon among districts around the state.”

Those options could be presented to the board as early as its next meeting, Feb. 12 at Westside Elementary. The Feb. 26 meeting will be at the District Office. Adopted changes would likely take effect in fall 2014, according to Goldman.

The crux of the idea is to start elementary schools an hour later than secondary schools, so that buses can serve more than one route in a day, thus requiring fewer buses to be on the road at any time.

It takes 29 buses to serve the 27 individual bus routes now provided by the district. Each bus costs $130,000. Due to budget cuts in recent years the district has not been able to keep up with what had been the traditional system of replacing one school bus per year. Of the 29 buses in use by the district, six are at least 20 years old.

Goldman said altering bell schedules and bus routes would be a cost-saving measure that does no harm to student learning, since it takes no resources out of the classroom.

Board member Rob Brostoff noted that the bus route change would add miles to some of the buses, which Goldman acknowledged, but said, “it is not like they are having to do double the miles.

“Increased miles and any change in maintenance costs are among the things we’re looking at,” Goldman said.

“We won’t make any change if we don’t think it’s a positive one. Change can be a difficult thing, and we want to be sure we communicate why” the change would be made, he said.

Goldman noted that reducing the overall number of bus routes might result in some students being required to walk farther to meet the bus in the morning, and home again in the afternoon.

On Monday the board approved a wide range of policy revisions, mostly language changes, including several pertaining to transportation. One of those revisions is to increase from one mile to 1.5 miles the distance that children eligible for transportation services “may be expected to walk to a bus stop ... once the student is on city, county, state or federal roads.”

“Elementary students may be expected to walk up to one mile to a bus stop,” the policy states, an increase from a half-mile. The change is not connected to the pending route and schedule changes but puts the district in keeping with state statutes according to Kevin Noreen, district human resources director, who oversaw the proposed policy revisions approved by the board.

In other business:

n Goldman announced that the district has partnered with Columbia Gorge Community College and North Wasco School District on a “STEM Hub” grant application that will provide integrated math and technology education in conjunction with community business partners. The $770,000 would focus on improving eighth-graders’ math achievement. The application was submitted this week to the state Department of Education, with CGCC as the lead agency.

n The board heard a report by Michael Elliott, state school funding coordinator for the Department of Education, on projected reductions in payments to the district based on students who are in poverty. The district will receive approximately $200,000 less next school year, following adoption by the state of a new formula for determining the number of students who are in poverty in each district.

Elliot explained that the state had been using a formula that had not been updated in 13 years. Instead of the past method of relying on census data, which is outdated, the state will now use a complicated formula that factors in census data, student attendance, and the numbers of students enrolled in free and reduced meals. Elliott told the board that the new system will be more transparent and more accurate.

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