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BOE considers cutting bus routes, creating ‘hubs’

It’s a move that could create “havoc in the community.” A possible decision to make cuts in the Butler County School System’s transportation program looms ahead for the BOE.

At Thursday night’s work session and meeting, Mike Looney presented three options proposed to deal with a program the superintendent said is “hemorrhaging money.”

“Option A is for the board to eliminate all transportation for students living within a two-mile radius of the school,” Looney said. Option A would eliminate 15 routes and 15 bus drivers would lose their jobs. It would save more than $170,000 for the remainder of this school year, and more than double that amount in the next year.

“Obviously,” Looney said, “This move would create havoc in the community. State law establishes the two-mile radius rule. The only reason we pick up children in Butler County is that years ago a waiver was requested and granted due to lack of sidewalks and the issue of safety.”

Option B would be to divide the county’s municipalities into quadrants to establish hubs, or bus stops, where students would assemble to be picked up and dropped off.

This option would eliminate seven routes and seven drivers, Looney said. The system would save approximately $88,000 this year and $176,000 next year. Additional savings would be likely through lower fuel consumption, need for fewer parts and the sales of unused buses, he added.

“This option, too, would create unrest, as this is a community used to buses picking up children door-to-door,” Looney said.

The final option? “Don’t do anything. Don’t make any cuts and try to survive, operating in a deficit capacity.”

Assistant superintendent Allin Whittle, interim superintendent Joseph Dean and Sherry Bennett, chief financial officer, came up with the cost-cutting proposals brought before the board.

Why the urgent need to make cuts in the transportation program’s budget?

“For the past two years, we’ve seen a significant decrease – 21 percent – in state funds, yet our expenses continue to rise. It is impossible to sustain all current services and programs without some sort of adjustments,” Looney said.

“The school system is living off of savings right now. If additional proration comes – and it is very likely – we will be in a position where we have to borrow money to make payroll. It’s like using a charge card to buy groceries.”

Looney said the system was currently dipping into fleet renewal money to pay for fuel and other expenses.

If routes are eliminated, Looney said the Reduction in Force (RIF) Policy would be invoked and “several variables would determine who goes first” in terms of driver layoffs.

Looney made the recommendation the board approve a further study into implementing Option B.

Several board members expressed their concerns.

“I think we need a complete plan to include locations for the hubs and arrangements for security, oversight and supervision. And I would prefer a site that would provide coverage in inclement weather,” said BOE president Joe Lisenby.

While the board president said he agreed with board member Billy Jones’ comment that he would prefer to make no changes, he added he thought the hub concept is an idea that could work.

“We are operating in a severe deficit in the transportation department and in the whole system. We have to make some cuts to make something we can live with,” Lisenby said.

Board member Linda Hamilton expressed her concern for the wellbeing of the “little bitty kids.”

“We must take a good look at this. I am uncomfortable without having a comprehensive plan that looks at the impact on families – the human cost in this,” she said.

A proposal was made to study the possible impact of the hub system’s implementation and have a report ready by Dec. 10, the date set for a special called meeting of the board.

Lisenby, Jones, and Terry Williams voted to approve the

study; Hamilton voted against it. Board member Johnny Lee was unable to attend Thursday night’s meeting.

If the hub system is approved by the board in December, it will go into effect January 2010.