An additional 2,000 Spring ISD students will have the option to ride buses to school in the upcoming 2015-16 school year following a vote by the board of trustees at its April 14 meeting.
The board voted to shift its transportation policy to allow buses to pick up students 1.5 miles or more from their respective campuses from the current 2-mile state limit. The expansion will service more than 900 elementary school students, 800 middle school students and 250 high school students in addition to the 13,800 students SISD already services.
Board President Rhonda Faust said the district has had many opportunities this school year through community focus groups and online surveys to receive input from parents regarding transportation issues.
"It is very clear that the community believes safety should be a high priority, and the board and district administration agree," said Faust. "Transportation is a key component of student safety in the district, and we are pleased to be able to provide this service to more students."
According to a report made to the board last week by Keith Kaup, SISD's new director of transportation, it will cost the district $3.6 million for the first year of expanded service which includes the purchase of 20 buses at approximately $110,000 a piece, the salary of 18 drivers and additional operating costs such as mileage, fuel and maintenance.
District officials said the advantages to increasing the number of students transported include fewer students walking to and from school and the reduction of traffic congestion in neighborhoods at campuses during drop-off and pick-up times.
"Transportation is a key component of student safety in the district, and we are pleased to be able to provide this service to more students." - Rhonda Faust, Spring ISD board president
The purchase of the 20 school buses will come from the current 2014-15 general fund while the additional personnel and operating costs will be part of the 2015-16 general fund budget.
"As a board I think it was a heartrending thing for us to go to two miles from a quarter mile," trustee Deborah Jensen said.
SISD reduced bus transportation for students from a quarter-mile to the 2-mile state limit four years ago due to heavy budget cuts as a result of the state's reduction of school funding.
"In 2011 the state legislature took [$4.5 billion] from public education," Jensen said. "They took almost $30 million from Spring ISD. It was the hardest vote on the board for me. I was having to choose between taking the bus limits to two miles versus laying off teachers."
Trustee Rhonda Newhouse said the board can always look into future expansions as more funding becomes available.
"I know it looks like moving from two miles to just a mile and a half seems like a small thing to do, but in eventuality, looking at the budget and working with our departments, it is a big step for our students," Newhouse said.
Faust said an alternative plan to revert to the quarter-mile limit would cost $13 million, which includes the purchase of 99 school buses.
"We wish we could take this further, but cost prohibits us doing any more right now without the community passing a bond," she said.