When the District 833 School Board members discuss the general fund budget at their April 9 workshop meeting, they plan to consider reducing the walking distances for junior high schools.
Currently, junior high students must live 1.5 miles or farther from their schools to be eligible for busing, but this change would reduce that amount to 1 mile.
Making the change in the fall of 2007 would cost the district more than $294,000 per year (possibly $252,000 more) in operating costs, and force the district to lose another $172,000 in revenue from athletic trips because of the higher demand for buses in the afternoon.
If the district waits two years, until the fall of 2009, to make the change, there would be no additional cost to lowering the walking distance, according to district staff, because the shifts in grade configurations will make it possible to lower the distance without adding routes.
These numbers alone are enough to justify waiting two years to implement this change, but there are more reasons to wait.
School Board member Tracy Brunnette, who supported reconsidering lower distances this fall, mentioned that parents made the sacrifice of increasing the walking distance three years ago to balance the district's budget, and that now budget times are better.
This is a good argument for reducing the walking distance in the future, but it doesn't justify speeding up the change at such high cost to the district. Many of those parents who made that sacrifice three years ago, now have students who are in high school, and possibly driving themselves to school.
Another problem with lowering the walking distances next school year is that it could leave the district with too many buses in the future.
If the district chose to lower the walking distances next fall without changing school hours, it would have to purchase eight buses, according to district Director of Transportation Keith Paulson.
Paulson said at the Feb. 8 School Board workshop that his department was unsure whether it would have enough room to store the additional buses, and has also said that purchasing so many buses now might leave the district with excess buses in 2009.
Each bus costs $80,000. That's a pretty big investment to have sitting around.
There's no doubt the School Board will have a lot of tough decisions to make when it comes to the budget, but whether to wait two years on lowering the walking distance shouldn't be one of them.