School district to conduct bus route survey

In an effort to cut costs, Archuleta School District 50 Joint bus drivers will be conducting a survey over the next few weeks on its 15 routes in order to gauge ridership — and whether routes need to be cut, combined, or shortened.

Despite assurances in President Obama’s televised speech Tuesday night that a $787 billion stimulus package would include some $115 billion in education aid, the district has been grappling with imminent cuts to education in the state of Colorado. On Jan. 29, Gov. Bill Ritter announced that $70 million would be cut from Colorado K-12 education funding.

According to district Transportation Director Dolly Martin, bus drivers will begin checking ridership numbers next week and will continue the survey over the next few weeks.

“We’re providing the service but if people aren’t taking advantage of it, we may have to discontinue the route,” said Martin. “The district is looking for ways to cut back on expenses and this is just one way.”

Martin said that some routes are currently under-utilized and it is those routes that would be considered for cuts.

“On some of the outlying routes, we may have seven to eight kids signed up but if only two or three are riding, I can’t really keep that route going. The kids may be registered (for bus service) but if they’re not riding, those routes may have to be discontinued.

Although afternoon routes usually have fewer riders, due to after-school activities, Martin said that the survey would focus on morning pickups. “Nine out of ten times, if they’re going to ride, it’s in the morning,” Martin said.

District Business Manager Janell Wood told The SUN that, “Including fuel, maintenance, insurance, and labor, transportation costs amount to $3.31 per mile, per day.”

Wood added, “That cost does not include expenditures for activities, which are not reimbursed for by the state.”

Wood also reported, “We’ve been told to expect funding cuts in (transportation) but we haven’t been told how much, yet.”

Although the district runs a yearly survey to examine bus routes for realignment and reassessment, Martin said that this year’s survey is notable for its significance as the district faces a potentially draconian financial squeeze. Indeed, as reported in the Feb. 12 edition of The SUN, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) informed the district of a rescission regarding its per pupil operating determination — state equalization funding — to the tune of $36.25 per pupil, a total of $57,628.

Furthermore, in a report released this week to The SUN, district secretary Robyn Bennett reported that the district had lost another 21 students (down 1.6 percent of total enrollment) since Oct. 2008, a total of 40 students from the previous year. Drops in enrollment result in, among other things, decreased state funding

Martin emphasized that parents are the determining factor in what routes would survive any cuts. “This is something parents have a choice in,” she said, adding, “But we need to look for ways to cut back.”

Martin stated that, while waiting in line at the elementary school to shuttle students to an activity, “I counted over 100 cars picking up students. Parents definitely make the difference in the decision of who is riding the bus.”

According to Martin, the bus route survey could take up to three weeks.

jim@pagosasun.com