School board holds off on bus changes for now

(Photo: File photo)

Lafayette Parish School Board members said they need more time to review possible changes to bus routes and bell times before making any final decisions.

According to a study by the district’s transportation vendor, the system could save millions of dollars each year by eliminating bus transportation for students who live a mile or closer to school, cutting bus transportation for Schools of Choice and/or changing arrival and dismissal times.

Transportation Director Damon Evans said Louisiana law and district policy already establishes a one-mile no transportation zone.

“We just don’t follow it because we choose not to. It’s something we wanted to show that it could save us some money,” Evans told the board’s executive committee Tuesday.

Evans said enforcing the rule could create 30 percent to 40 percent more vehicle traffic at some schools, since many parents would likely bring their children to and from school. In addition, some sites, such as Ossun Elementary, Ridge Elementary and Charles Burke Elementary, are in rural areas that don’t have sidewalks.

According to the study, the system could cut 20 to 30 bus routes by enforcing a one-mile no bus zone. Evans said each eliminated route represents $55,000 in savings.

“We just wanted to know what we’re looking at,” Evans said. “We’ve thought about doing it at some schools. What’s fair? What’s not fair? That’s what we look at.”

Evans said he had concerns about changing bell times, which could save up to 25 routes. He noted that the district is expected to redraw school attendance boundaries in the next few years, which will result in busing changes.

“This would affect about 85 percent of our total routes,” Evans said. “If we implement that one next year, two years later, we might have to do the same thing because we are going into rezoning. We have to change routes again. We’d be doing the same work twice within three years.”

Meanwhile, School Board Vice President Dawn Morris said she was concerned about the idea of cutting bus transportation for Schools of Choice academies, which were created in part to help the district reach unitary status after its desegregation case.

“If we adopted one of those scenarios and that resulted in too many kids in high-minority schools, there’s a real risk we would be under federal oversight again,” Morris said. “I’m not in favor of that.”

Morris said she would like to see staff members look at creating more efficient Schools of Choice routes, possibly putting more academies on certain routes.

No timetable was given for when new recommendations may go before board members.

Meanwhile, the two members of the board’s finance committee who were in attendance — Justin Centanni and Elroy Broussard — voted to recommend that the full board consider putting a tax initiative on the ballot next year.

Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said the board would need to approve an initiative by mid-October in order to have it on an April 2016 ballot. Guidry said the district has about $700 million in facility needs, even as it uses more than $126 million in existing bond funds for new construction and expansions.

Several options for a new tax initiative still are on the table, including sales taxes, property taxes or a combination of both.

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