Three generations of Michelle Parkin’s family have taken the bus to Coeur d’Alene schools from the same Wolf Lodge area bus stop, until this year.
Cutbacks forced the district to look for savings in its transportation budget and three rural bus routes were trimmed – in Wolf Lodge, the north side of Hayden Lake and Cougar Gulch – with service consolidated in those areas.
That means Parkin and her parents have been taking turns making four trips daily to the new bus stop to pick up her second-grade son, Nicholas, and her sixth-grade daughter, Katalina. Because they attend different schools, they ride different buses. The old bus stop was close enough for the children to walk home safely.
“Luckily, my parents live nearby,” said Parkin, who works in Coeur d’Alene. “If they weren’t there, I don’t know what we’d do.”
District officials began discussing more than a year ago ways to cut transportation costs due to budget shortfalls. In the past two years, said Jill Hill, the district’s transportation director, the state Legislature has cut the transportation budget by 20 percent – from about $2 million to $1.6 million.
By consolidating the bus routes, the district was able to save $93,000 annually, said Steve Briggs, chief financial officer. Some 42 families were affected by the change. The school board voted to make the change June 6.
State law requires that transportation be provided to students who live more than a mile and a half from school, Hill said. So families who live farther than that from the consolidated bus stops are reimbursed 45 cents a mile to get their children there, Briggs said.
“I just don’t want the parents to feel like we’re throwing them under the bus, if you will,” Hill said. “It’s a tough decision and it impacts them, and we get that. If I had a bus to pick up every kid, I would.”
But she added, “We have to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and still try to provide the best service we can within our means. These outlying areas, we care about these guys as much as anybody else, but when you’re doing budget cuts, you try to find an area that impacts the least amount of people.”
The district has always had areas not served by buses for one reason or another. Of the district’s 10,000 students, about 4,000 are transported daily. Others walk or drive to school, ride their bikes or are driven by parents.
But this change is the widest ranging and hits the largest number of families, Briggs said.
“It’s something we did not take lightly,” he said. “It’s something we would have preferred not to have to do.” However, he added, “Circumstances led us in that area because the number of students affected is relatively few and the dollars savings are large.”