When students climb on board the bus again in August, they won't be pulling out their wallets: A planned fee for Hesperia Unified students to ride the bus has been put on hold, at least for now.
In a rare show of unanimity, school board members Monday night objected to the proposed fee schedule, which ranged from $120 to $300 annually per student.
"In a multiple student family, the proposal provides a lower cost for each additional student," Assistant Superintendent David McLaughlin clarified in an e-mail later in the week. "So a family with three students would pay $300 for their first student, $260 for the second student, etc."
"They're too high," board member Niccole Childs objected Monday night.
"The average median income" of the communities the proposed fees were based on "far outweigh the incomes here," said board member Anthony Riley.
"I think we need to base it on similar districts, not just surrounding counties," said board member Hardy Black.
"I'm kind of, of the mindset of a 'get our feet wet' approach" with a lower fee initially, said board president Chris Bentley. "You don't know who's not going to ride the bus since it's [cost] prohibitive. You just don't know."
The 2011-2012 budget does not yet include any revenue from the bus fees, as the price isn't yet decided.
"I think we're going to have a hue and cry, just enforcing the bus passes at the elementary level," said Black. Only secondary students had to use bus passes last school year. The passes are intended to limit bus use to those who actually live in the coverage area, instead of allowing students to walk to a bus stop from outside the intended coverage zone.
"What do you want to do?" Bentley asked his fellow board members. "If you don't want to charge, let's kill it."
"It's not that we don't want to charge a fee," said Childs, "but these fees aren't realistic to our district."
The board tabled the fee-setting vote until July, when district staff is expected to have a "more realistic" fee structure available. The fees are being set with help from consultant Michael Fogarty, the Director of Transportation for Hemet Unified, who is providing his services to the HUSD free of charge.
As a result, there will be no bus fees for the first semester of the 2011-2012 school year.
"I believe the entire board understood that delaying the decision on transportation fees would mean delaying the implementation of these fees until mid-year," said McLaughlin.
In the meantime, the district is balancing its budget around not getting the bus fees. But with the state budget still up in the air -- the overwhelming majority of HUSD funds come from the state -- McLaughlin said that fees are likely still coming.
The San Bernardino County Superintendent of School's "Business Advisory Services is still warning of a significant risk of further reductions if additional revenue from the extension of taxes is not available to lawmakers," he wrote. "In addition, the board, the superintendent and I are interested in reducing the encroachment of transportation costs on the general fund. Transportation fees are viewed as one of many long-term solutions aimed at eliminating deficit spending in the next several years."
The next regular meeting of the HUSD school board will be held on July 11 at 6 p.m. in the HUSD Educational Support Center Annex, 15576 Main Street.
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.