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Districts Asking Parents to Pony Up for Bus Services

Even as school district budgets are beginning to recover from the financial blows dealt by the Great Recession, bus transportation seems to still be a big line item that district number crunchers are trying to reduce or eliminate.

It's become increasingly common for districts to contract their bus services to private providers as one way of cost-cutting—we saw a major showdown over just that issue in New York City earlier this year when Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought private bids for thousands of routes that he said would save a half billion dollars over five years, sparking city school bus workers to go on strike for a month.

But many districts have begun turning to parents to foot the bill for transportation. Just this week, a private company announced it would be offering bus service for a fee to roughly 2,500 students who attend magnet and choice schools in Brevard County, Fla., a district with 73,000 students. Recent budget cuts eliminated district-run bus services for those students.

The company, called SchoolWheels Direct, says it offers similar private busing services to students in the 125,000-student Duval County, Fla., system, although strong parent demands drove officials there recently to restore district-provided transportation to many of its magnet students beginning this fall. The district cut its magnet transportation program two years ago because of a $91 million budget shortfall.

On the opposite coast, the 6,600-student Paso Robles district in central California (where school busing budgets were pummeled over the last several years), has virtually no free bus service. Most students must pay something for transportation to and from school in the coming year—only those with special needs and who are homeless are exempt. And the 86,000-student Jefferson County, Colo., school system has also in recent years moved to a fee-based transportation system to help address rising costs during tight budget times.

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