On Tuesday, April 24, 2012 the Menifee Unified School District held a controversial board meeting at Freedom Crest Elementary to discuss potential budget and program cuts. Concerned parents packed into the elementary school multi purpose room to voice their grievances and hopefully leave with answers.
The main issue at hand was how budget cuts were going to possibly minimize, or even do away with, the school bus transportation in the Menifee School District.
One angry parent, up in arms, approached the podium and began to tell her tale of single parenting and the inability to get her children to school without a bus service. She went on to explain that without a bus, her child would have to walk 6 miles to school which would take him hours.
Parents argued that while the board is scrambling to balance the budget and make numbers meet, without attendance the schools would lose vital funding. And without buses, the children cannot make it to school.
One parent went as far as to say she currently pays for her children to ride the bus and would gladly pay more for the service to continue.
Denise Bassett, a current teacher at Ridgemoor Elementary, recounted her days as a busy parent of multiple children at different schools saying, “Buses made life less stressful. There was no physical way I could get my kids to school.”
While her children were taking the bus, she knew they were getting to school and that they were getting there safely.
After initially voting unanimously to adopt the Transportation Plan 2A, the governing school board decided to tentatively approve Plan 2a with a graduated fee structure over a three year period.
Plan 2a sought to minimize the number of bus stops with the intention to centralize pick up locations while efficiently servicing the highest ride areas.
The approved plan 2a with graduated fee structure proposes to increase the fee parents pay so their child(ren) may ride the bus. As it stands, Menifee district students pay the lowest annual fee of $220, out of all the surrounding districts.
The graduated fee increase would slowly raise the cost to ride the bus from $220 to $350 next school year 2012/2013, up to $450 in 2013/2014, and finally to $550 in 2014/2015. The plan would also require that students currently receiving free or reduced price lunches would need to pay a minimal bus fee as well.
To date, five bus drivers have received pink slips in compliance with the required 45-day notice.
It is required by the state that the governing board turn in a budget plan in the coming month. For this reason, this decisions concerning cuts have tentatively been made but will be revisited once the district receives actual numbers concerning funding after the November ballot.
Board member, Scott Mann, said, “These decisions aren’t easy to make. I’ve been there and I empathize with you.”
While this solution seeks to serve parents and students as best as possible, the Board still needs to verify that this decision is in compliance with the education code.
After the final decision is made, actual pick-up points will be determined based on highest ridership and the worst safety concerns. In addition the transportation department will draft a visual map of the bus routes.
Parents pointed blame at decision-making board members, it still seems that the Menifee Unified School District is working there hardest to save the bus system.
After stating her own opinion the head of the teacher’s union, Jody Sanchez, offered up a positive take on the dismal situation saying, “We are all going through this and we need to be in it together.”
The next regular meeting of the Governing Board will be held at the district office on Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 4:30 PM.