School buses could become scarce in parts of Washington as the state grapples with budget shortfalls.
Among the list of cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire is considering: State funds to help transport students to and from school could be eliminated. Although not one of Gregoire’s preferred cuts, it would save $220 million and is on her list of ideas to deal with a $2 billion budget shortfall.
Experts say Washington would be the first state to completely eliminate state dollars for bus service because of the recent recession.
Most Spokane-area school districts use state money to supplement bus costs.
“Although the elimination of school transportation funding appears on the governor’s potential list of reductions, it is not part of her current proposal,” said Melanie Rose, Central Valley School District spokeswoman. “We continue to closely monitor budget information coming from Olympia and will analyze impacts more fully following the upcoming state revenue forecast.”
Central Valley and Mead school districts each receive about $2 million annually for transportation. For Mead, that’s about half of its transportation budget; it’s 57 percent of Central Valley’s.
The state pays an even greater share for Spokane Public Schools – $6.1 million out of $8.8 million – meaning the district could lose nearly 70 percent of its transportation funding.
The Mead School District, divided by two highways and the Little Spokane River, presents some special challenges for moving students, said Wayne Leonard, executive director of business services. “Just because of the geography of the district, we’d have a hard time making our students walk or carpool,” he said.
While Spokane-area school districts are aware of the potential cut in transportation money, administrators have not decided what they would do if it happens.
“The governor included the elimination of school transportation services to protect classrooms on her list of budget reduction alternatives in K-12 education,” said Linda McDermott, Spokane Public Schools executive director for finance. “Her list of cuts illustrates the significance of the state’s fiscal challenges, but it is still very early in the legislative process; thus, the school district has not yet identified options should this alternative be used to close the state’s budget shortfall.”