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School bus funds face 'catastrophic' cuts at Legislature

Sun Advocate reporter

Murrell Martin, transportation specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, did not mince words in the USOE report to the Legislature:

"In my opinion, the loss of an additional $6.3 million in state 'to and from' pupil transportation funding would have a catastrophic negative effect across the State of Utah," was his comment. The reason for the strong words was summarized in the rest of the report.

The report submitted to the Public Education Subcommittee last October noted that the cut in school bus funding this year would come on top of $13 million in previous cuts over the past three years. If the legislature approves the latest reduction, it would mean that state support would be trimmed by $19 million - or nearly 25 percent - since 2008. Martin said Tuesday the information in the October report is still current.

So what's to be done if the transportation system takes another hit?

"I wish I could tell you. I'm really not sure," stated Carbon District Transportation Supervisor Kerry Jensen on Wednesday. The routes have to be run, maintenance for safety has to be performed, and fuel bills and driver wages must be paid.

Extending the distance student have to walk does not seem like a viable saving measure in this rural county, according to studies the district has done. For example, extending the eligibility for ridership from the current two miles to three for secondary students would probably not eliminate many, if any, bus routes. The buses would simply pass by the previous stops on their route to Carbon High.

Jensen added that costs would borne by parents, and not just the cost of fuel. A school bus eliminates the need for 36 cars on average. If parents don't want their students to walk three miles to Mont Harmon Junior High, cutting back on bus service could lead to as many as 300 extra cars pulling up to MHJHS every morning and afternoon.

Martin said that there is a glimmer of hope for the situation. The preliminary budget figures are based on last year's revenues. A new set of data using more up-to-date numbers is due next Tuesday. If the revenues look better, or if the legislature decides to apply one-time funding to cover the gap, the cutbacks may not be as drastic.

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