Whether or not the Coronado Unified School District will continue to provide busing services remains a hot topic with the new school board.
Board Vice President Scot Youngblood has questioned whether the district should “look at other avenues” and proposed reimbursing parents for transporting their kids to school. However, Trustee Whitney Antrim, the lone holdover from the prior board, has said the service is “a huge benefit for families.”
The two debated the issue at the Dec. 15, board meeting, when Youngblood and three others took office on the five-member board, and busing was discussed at the board’s Jan. 19, meeting. The issue was not discussed at February’s meeting.
Youngblood in January shared his view on the cost of transportation and contracting that service with another school district with the Coronado News.
“I think that $500,000 to $600,000 for two routes is a high cost to pay. And so I don’t necessarily think that that’s sustainable going forward when we have so many other financial requests or needs in the district,” he said.
Youngblood said that limited transportation services are a shared experience among other school districts, and he hopes the district will get multiple bids if it continues to provide busing.
“It’s hard to find school bus drivers.”CUSD Board Trustee Scot Youngblood
“Believe it or not, it’s hard to find school bus drivers. So that is one of the issues that I think other schools and school districts that used to contract with us have had an issue with,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, we only had one district who was willing to provide the service. Hopefully it would be at a more reasonable price, but still provide the same level of service.”
Allocating funds reasonably across the district for various services is one of Youngblood’s main concerns.
“If you can save a few hundred thousand dollars and still provide the same level of service for everyone, our stakeholders are happy with it, then we can direct that to funding other important educational programs,” he said.
But Antrim expressed concern over the high number of students whose life may drastically change if a school busing contract is not in the picture for the upcoming school year.
“We would have close to 200 students without transportation to school or families who would be impacted by the lack thereof. … We’re having robust success with our breakfast service, largely in part to the success of the bus,” she said. “The good breakfast helps the children be focused and ready for an academic school day. So I see a domino effect in removing that service of potential negative consequences.”
Antrim said the district needs to be mindful of spending, but also examine what the contracted services provide to Coronado students and families.
“The ideal contract is, first and foremost, one that exists and I would like it to cost less than what we’re paying now, but the terms of this contract are very favorable for Coronado Unified because they include all the staffing, scheduling, bus maintenance, fuel, everything, and all the things that can go wrong with those things in one flat fee, all of which I like,” she said.
A school bus sign stands behind a bus at Village Elementary School. Staff photo by Willem Quigley.
With the current academic school year ending by the middle of the calendar year, preparation to secure a school bus contract remains ambivalent.
“We have not submitted an extension or renewal of the contract,” she said.
In the midst of the vagueness concerning a secured transportation contract for the 2023-24 school year, the district remains diligent about the task at hand, Antrim said.
“I know our business services department is looking at it and trying to come up with the best option for us,” she said.
No decision has been made on busing for next year, and the conversation about the district’s need for school buses stems from the previous board and continues to be at the top of the list among newly elected board members.
Busing costs have doubled
Currently the San Marcos Unified School District provides busing services to Coronado students at a cost of $500,000 per academic year.
That’s roughly double the cost compared to the pre-pandemic busing contract when South Bay Union School District was paid about $250,000 per academic year for similar services, according to CUSD Deputy Superintendent Donnie Salamanca.
Salamanca in December told the board that district officials projects that the cost for the next school year will increase to $850,000.
Salamanca reported there were two important considerations for the “In-House Transportation Analysis.”
One is that “bus regulations will require additional investments in infrastructure since diesel buses will no longer be allowable after 2024,” and the second is recent legislation provides for up-to 60% reimbursement from the state for costs associated with providing home-to-school transportation.
Antrim in December urged the board to plan ahead in the case that the San Marcos Unified School District does not offer a contract for the upcoming academic school year.
Alexia Palacios-Peters, the board’s newly elected clerk, agreed to revisit the issue in the future.
“I think it does warrant for further discussion because we’re going to be left every year having this problem,” she said.
The discussion about school-busing services is an issue that gained importance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From 2020 to 2022, the CUSD sought bids for services after a five-year contract with South Bay Union School District expired on June 30, 2020.
The South Bay USD contract provided CUSD home-to-school bus transportation services for students from the Silver Strand communities attending Coronado Middle, Silver Strand Elementary, and Village Elementary schools.
A national shortage of school bus drivers made it difficult for CUSD to secure a busing contract, and during the 2021-22 school year, CUSD students were issued San Diego Metropolitan Transit (MTS) bus passes for school transportation.
At the first board meeting of the new year, on Jan. 19, discussion regarding the district’s busing services was not brought up among the board.
Still, the topic was referenced during Silver Strand Elementary School Principal Jennifer Moore’s Annual Report.
During her presentation, a slide listed “Return of bus transportation” under the “Silver Strand Celebrations” among other positive acknowledgements.
The following board meeting on Feb. 16 did not mention the district’s busing services.
After soliciting feedback from the public via a Google form, the governing board plans to approve the updated Coronado USD Transportation Plan at the March meeting to increase funding for the district transportation services by the annual April deadline. The plan describes the district busing services for the current and upcoming academic school year.