Shoreline bus budget to get halved

12/22/2011

A new round of state budget cuts has left West Marin school districts scrambling to shed spending and share it where possible to ensure that, among other things, students can get to class.

The cuts, announced last week by Governor Jerry Brown, will add another $1 billion to the $27 billion already stripped from California’s public education system over the last three years. According to officials, they stand to most greatly impact home-to-school transportation in poor and remote regions.

“Mothballing school bus fleets across the state will mean many rural, disabled and low-income students literally will have no safe way to get to school,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a press conference on Tuesday.

Shoreline Unified School District, which stretches nearly 48 miles from top to bottom, is set to lose $270,000—or half—of its transportation budget, said district Superintendent Stephen Rosenthal. Approximately 80 percent of Shoreline’s students take a bus to and from school, with some high school students riding as much as an hour each way.

But Rosenthal and others are certain that solutions will be found to safeguard bus services. “One thing we are not going to cut is transportation,” he said. “We know that we cannot work without it.”

While there is still a chance the cuts won’t materialize come January, school board president Tim Kehoe said that he and others are planning for the worst. “It’s going to have to come out of the general fund in some form,” he said. “We know we cannot have students not showing up for school.”

Though representatives from Lagunitas and Bolinas-Stinson Unified school districts were unavailable for comment, Kehoe believed those districts’ bus services would not be impacted to the extent of Shoreline’s because of their smaller geographic areas.

Still, all three West Marin districts have been talking this fall about ways to help each other bear the burden of looming cuts. In an article in the Marin Independent Journal, Bolinas-Stinson and Lagunitas joint superintendent Lawrence Enos described the three as situated similarly. “None of us can afford a full-time superintendent, and there are other ways in which we can cooperate, collaborate and meet our administrative needs,” he said.

That could happen in a number of ways, Kehoe said, such as pooling business resources and early childhood education. In part, transportation is already shared; Shoreline oversees bus storage and maintenance for all three districts’ fleets.

Besides consolidating services, Kehoe said his district could be forced to dip into emergency carry-over funds to keep the transportation department afloat, but that that would only be a one-time fix and is therefore considered a last resort. Shoreline has not yet discussed the possibility of layoffs. “I’m not saying we won’t, but we’re trying everything we can right now to avoid [them],” Kehoe said.

In fact, Shoreline is in the process of hiring a high school principal to replace Rosenthal, who has been filling the position temporarily for the past two years, in addition to his full-time duties as superintendent. The board also plans to reduce the superintendent position to part-time.

According to the Independent Journal, Rosenthal is expected to agree to the changes, in part because he is nearing retirement. When he does leave, the board may have a difficult time filling the reduced superintendent position. The same could be true for Lagunitas and Bolinas-Stinson, where Enos, who has managed both districts for the last five years, is also nearing retirement age.

“Someone that would look at doing two districts would be slightly insane anyway...” said Lagunitas Board President Denise Santa Cruz-Bohman at a meeting of all three districts in September. “It’s not for the faint hearted.”