Viewpoint: Evidence of no-new-taxes approach present in District 833 busing problem“Ridiculous.” That is the word used by parents to describe proposals to start several elementary schools at 9:25 a.m. and begin charging fees to recover the additional transportation costs associated with educational choice programs. I would agree; both of these proposals are ridiculous – except when you consider the alternatives.
By: Jim Gelbmann, Woodbury Bulletin
“Ridiculous.” That is the word used by parents to describe proposals to start several elementary schools at 9:25 a.m. and begin charging fees to recover the additional transportation costs associated with educational choice programs. I would agree; both of these proposals are ridiculous – except when you consider the alternatives.
In an ideal world, all schools would begin their academic day between 8 and 9 a.m. Do the math: with bus routes averaging 25 minutes for every 50 students, and allowing 15 minutes for dropping students off, inspecting the bus and driving to the first stop of the next route, it takes more than one hour to transport 15,352 students to school with 107 buses.
In an ideal world, our school officials would remove all barriers to the academic choice programs we have created for our students. However, the districtwide attendance area for academic choice programs significantly increases the per-student transportation costs associated with these programs.
Unfortunately, thanks in large part to public support for candidates who place “no new taxes” ahead of all other priorities, we no longer live in an ideal world.
Over the past two decades, Minnesota has reversed its historic commitment to funding high quality public education. Minnesota was once looked upon as a model for investing in the future of our children by providing them with the educational opportunities they need to compete in a global economy. That was before voters began electing politicians who embraced the “no new taxes” mantra.
The state’s general education aid formula provides the primary source of funding for K-12 public education. In 1996-97, that aid formula was set at $3,105. Today, adjusting the formula to allow for an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the education aid formula has increased to $4,365 per student. Had our state leaders simply allowed the education aid formula to increase with inflation, the formula would have provided $5,401 per student for the 2011-12 school year. Think of how much more we could do if we were investing $1,036 more per year for every student in our public schools.
Minnesota’s failure to allow K-12 education investments to rise with inflation is at the center of our current struggle to balance South Washington County School’s transportation budget. Since 1996-97, our district has limited the increase in its transportation spending to the 40 percent increase in the state’s education aid formula. Our transportation costs have increased well beyond our revenues.
Back in 1996-97, we paid 90 cents per gallon for diesel fuel for our buses; this year we paid $3.55 per gallon, a 294-percent increase over the 1996-97 prices. Our spending for diesel fuel increased from $297,000 in 1996-97 to $1.2 million this year. The cost of a new school bus in 1996-97 was $55,000; that same new bus costs $95,000 today. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to understand a budget shortfall is inevitable when costs increase faster than revenues. Had our state officials allowed the education aid formula to increase with inflation, we would not have the large deficit in our transportation budget we must now address.
Our district transportation officials deserve substantial credit for wringing every possible dollar of savings from our transportation budget. Unfortunately, additional efficiencies in our transportation operations will not be as painless. Unless the School Board adopts many of the “ridiculous” transportation budget solutions being proposed, we will be forced to take money out of our classrooms to eliminate the transportation budget deficit. Those who oppose these “ridiculous” transportation proposals should consider these economic realities next time they vote for a candidate who promises “no new taxes.”
Gelbmann is a District 833 School Board member and Woodbury resident