Schools may lose $75,000

Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2000

A bill to limit runaway state spending on public school transportation would cost the Juneau School District about $75,000 a year, local officials say.

Senate Bill 290, sponsored by Fairbanks Republican Sen. Gary Wilken, would set fiscal 2001 as a baseline for fully reimbursing school districts' contracts with bus lines. In future years, the state would reimburse only half of any increased costs.

It gives school districts a vested interest in the contracts, said Eddy Jeans, the school finance director for the state Department of Education.

``We will be impacted, probably between $75,000 and $80,000,'' said Marysia Ochej, the Juneau School District's director of administrative services. The money would have to come out of operating funds, which pay for expenses such as salaries and textbooks.

The state's costs for student transportation are increasing substantially, Jeans said.

Various new and extended school bus contracts since 1996 have gone up by 18 percent to 50 percent, he said. The department was budgeted for nearly $40 million this year, which is $2.14 million short of fully reimbursing school districts. And it has asked for $44.85 million for next fiscal year.

As it happens, there's no upward trend in Juneau's five-year contract with ABG Bus Line, now in its final year. The cost has gone up and down depending on how many routes are called for and the Consumer Price Index in Anchorage.

The state reimbursed Juneau $1.37 million last fiscal year for student transportation. The school district paid about $270,000 to cover some nonreimbursable costs, such as kindergarten routes and after-school activity routes.

Jeans said the department is trying to get a handle on statewide costs by aligning several school districts' requests for proposals for student transportation. That should encourage competition from Outside contractors, he said.

Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su area, with a combined need for 440 school buses, will all request proposals for student transportation next year.

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