When you go back-to-school shopping for your middle school and high school students, you may want to pick them up a good pair of walking shoes.

When the new school year begins in August, the minimum distance a secondary student has to live from a school in order to be able to ride the bus will be extended by half a mile. For seventh and eighth graders, that means a student will have to live 2.5 miles or further away to be able to ride the bus. For high school students, it'll be 3.5 miles.

The decision by the Hesperia Unified School District is a purely economic one, said Superintendent Mark McKinney.

"This is all predicated on the current economic crisis," McKinney said Tuesday. "We've cut all over the place."

The state of California is facing an estimated $17 billion shortfall -- the budget will likely not be finalized until this fall -- and legislators are considering cutting back on the amount of money the state provides to public school districts based on average daily attendance (ADA) in district schools.

The state's ADA payments make up 73 percent of the HUSD's general operation fund -- as opposed to funds that can only be spent on expenses like facilities. The 7 percent cut discussed in Sacramento would mean a $5.5 million budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2008-2009. Salaries and benefits make up 76 percent of the HUSD's budget.

A task force composed of district employees and parents identified the bussing as a place the district could save money. If the extra half-mile minimum distance was applied from kindergarten through 12th grade, the district would save $1.2 million. But the task force decided to just go with 7 through 12, for an estimated savings of $800,000.

"This has no impact on the classroom," McKinney said. "This has a significant impact on parents. I understand that."

District officials estimate that 1,707 students at the district's middle and high schools will be affected by the change.

But, McKinney said, the HUSD has pretty much run out of other places to cut: Earlier this year, the school board voted to lay off 50.5 teachers (a number that has since dropped to eight, thanks to other employees resigning); non-teaching staff have agreed to work fewer days in the 2008-2009 school year; the district's photo shop program has been terminated; the HUSD's elementary school music program has teetered on the edge of cancellation.

"We've cut staff, we've cut programs," McKinney said. "We had to look at other means of cost savings."

And to stop students from simply walking to the closest bus stop and getting on there, the HUSD will be issuing bus passes based on their registered residential address. The change will also mean students who attend HUSD schools but do not live in the district's boundaries, such as students living in Spring Valley Lake, will have to seek some other form of transportation.

"We've tried to make this as easy to bear as possible," McKinney said. Should the state budget cuts turn out to be less severe than predicted, "we'll certainly look at bringing [the old bussing boundaries] back."

The Hesperia Unified School District will be holding two informational sessions about the changes to bussing for grades 7 through 12 on July 30 and 31 at 6:30 p.m. On July 30, the meeting will be held at Sultana High School. The July 31 meeting will be held at Hesperia High School. Maps of the revised bus routes will be available.

For more information about bus stops, call First Student bus lines 244-4022. For more information on other bussing issues, call 244-0502, extension 4.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.