Reed City reinstitutes busing program
REED CITY — The good news — there will be busing for students in the Reed City Area Public Schools District.
The bad news — things really haven’t changed with regard to desperate budgeting issues. A lot of school funds will still be spent on transportation despite considerable savings.
School district planners around the state are grasping at straws in attempts to keep their respective districts afloat.
While local school district planning teams struggle to make the best use of every penny available to them, funding from Lansing continues to be cut at every turn.
In Reed City, after deciding to eliminate the transportation program in a bid to save well over a million dollars, Board of Education members met last week to reinstate the program — in a new format.
During a special session last week, Board of Education members approved a contractual arrangement with Michigan Education Transportation Services of Grand Rapids to provide busing services to the district for three years.
“Because of concerns from parents in the community, we decided to reinstate busing,” said board treasurer Scott Ridderman. “We did a large survey and we got a good response from the people in our district and what they needed as far as transportation goes.”
In the plan to cancel busing for the largest majority of Reed City students, only two buses out of a fleet of 18 would continue running - one for special needs students, the other to service those being transported to the Career Center.
Cutting the transportation would have saved the district roughly $750-800,000.
Under the new plan, having contracted the labor aspect of the program to METS, the district will still save some $69,667 with the elimination of one run, reduced bus parts, reduced labor costs, and other factors.
“When we look at what we will save and spend, one big factor is unemployment compensation,” noted Westhoff.
“Depending on how many or our drivers sign on with METS, we will see savings go up a bit or down a bit.”
Westhoff said both METS and the district are very interested in employing drivers who are already familiar with busing routes in the district.
Following the Board meeting, Westhoff was quietly confident the best possible choice had been made for all involved - especially students and families of those students.
“I’m very pleased we will be able to provide transportation for all of our kids,” said the superintendent.
“We have a lot of parents who shared their concerns with us. We understand that in many families there was an extreme need for transportation to and from school.
“We listened to those concerns and will now be able to transport their students to school and home again.”
Some in the community have suggested the cancellation of the transportation program in RCAPS was “an exercise” used to manipulate public opinion in some way.
Westhoff noted this way of thinking was unrealistic, and such intimations untrue.
“If this was some sort of exercise, it certainly is one I don’t want to ever take part in again,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to say this was “an exercise.”
“A stunning amount of work went into trying to find creative solutions to the problems involved in getting students to and from school without an organized busing program.
“We have managed to resolve one problem, but we still have significant budget problems in our district.
“We found a way to make our transportation program work for now.
“We listened to the people of this community and the Board acted accordingly.”
With the announcement that the district would be reinstating a modified busing program, parents, guardians and students were notified of the decision in a letter dated July 1.
“After a great deal of work, creative problem solving and investigation we are pleased to announce that all aspects of transportation for Reed City Area Public Schools have been reinstated for the 2011-12 school year.
All Students will be picked up and dropped off like in the past. Our route schedule will come out as usual in the August newsletter indicating route times and locations.
During these difficult financial times we asked for your input, feedback and assistance. We listened to your concerns and have adjusted our budget reductions to provide the funds necessary to contract out our transportation service to Michigan Education Transportation Services. Most of the bus drivers will be the familiar faces you are used to and all drivers will be from our community. Reed City Area Public Schools bus conduct rules, regulations and procedures will all remain in effect.
Thank you for your support as we’ve worked through this difficult situation. As always; we continue to look for ways to provide the highest quality education possible with the resources available, we’ve maintained the lowest class sizes of any district around and we’ve placed your child at the top of our priority list!”
The Pioneer’s John Eppley contributed to this article.