School busing: Is it feasible in Menlo Park?
Major obstacles: cost and whether enough parents will use it.
By Marjorie Mader
Almanac Staff Writer
In response to community concerns about traffic congestion around schools, the Menlo Park City School District has asked an outside consulting team to study the feasibility and costs of providing bus transportation for students traveling from home to school and back.
Among the obstacles: the cost and whether enough parents will actually use it.
A survey of parents last May showed there was “strong support for school transportation, but many families wouldn’t use it,” said school board president Laura Rich, who tabulated the results.
Trustees have signed an agreement with a state-funded agency, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, to conduct the study. The team operates from the office of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.
Team representative Mike Rea plans to come to the district and begin the study in mid-October. The report should be ready for review at a board meeting in early January, said Superintendent Ken Ranella.
Trustees also asked the team to address the feasibility and costs associated with:
-- Shuttle service between designated points in the community.
-- Busing for school field trips.
-- Transportation for students living in the Ravenswood district and voluntarily attending Menlo Park schools under the Tinsley program, created under a court settlement in 1986 to reduce racial isolation and improve educational achievement.
Transportation for Tinsley students is provided through a busing agreement with the Sequoia Union High School District, and funded by the participating districts and the state.
Cost is a major obstacle to busing because the district is not eligible for state funding for school transportation, Mr. Ranella said. Bond funds cannot be used for transportation.
Among questions needing answers: How much would transportation costs encroach on district funds for educating students? How many families would actually use school bus transportation? How much would families be willing to pay for bus transportation?
A total of 666 parents, representing 849 students (of about 2,200 students enrolled in the district) responded to the survey. Sixty-two percent said a busing program should be self-supporting. Almost 25 percent said they would support busing if the fees did not exceed $750 a year, but that support dropped to 6.4 percent if the fees were up to $1,000 a child per year.
School bus transportation vanished in the Menlo Park district after passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which limited property taxes to 1 percent of the assessed value. Annual increases in assessed value are capped at 2 percent. Previously, local property taxes furnished two-thirds of school revenue.