Lincoln school board considers transportation cuts
Busing could be on the chopping block inÂ Lincoln Consolidated SchoolsÂ as the district looks for ways to slash $3 million to $5 million from its budget over the next 18 months.
The school board is considering several proposals that include fully cutting, partially cutting or outsourcing transportation in the district to keep its fund balance from dipping into the red.
Board President Kim Samuelson said the board is looking at transportation because it's one of the few mid-year cuts that won’t directly affect classroom activity.
“This is basically our starting point,” she said. “At the last board meeting, we talked about mid-year cuts, but we’re not in a position to make significant mid-year cuts because it impacts the quality of education for the kids.”
Superintendent Lynn Cleary presented the board with five options for full or partial reductions in transportation, along with estimated savings for each.
The five options under consideration are:
- Completely eliminating K-12 transportation at a savings of $494,000.
- Eliminating transportation to Bessie Hoffman and Childs Elementary at a savings of $51,000.
- Eliminating transportation to Bessie Hoffman and Childs Elementary, but providing a shuttle from the main campus at a savings of $30,000.
- Eliminating secondary transportation only at a savings of $287,000.
- Making no reductions in transportation.
The board will choose one of those options, and Samuelson said the key is to make cuts that least impact the classroom. But she called cutting transportation a catch-22 because students won’t be in the classroom if they can’t get there.
She added those measures are being considered because busing isn’t a state-mandated service.
“That’s something to look at, however, the other side of coin is if some students didn’t have busing, they simply wouldn’t go to school,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson said the proposals were met with hesitation by board members because of the hardships they would create, and called a full cut “unlikely”.
Another idea that's been floated but would require further examination and coordination with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District is outsourcing busing to a vendor. Cleary said the WISD has already put out a request for prices from different companies.
Cleary added the district has been talking about collaborating with Ann Arbor Public Schools and Ypsilanti Public Schools to reduce transportation costs. Outsourcing would mean the current drivers could go work for an outside company and retain their jobs, but the district would no longer have to pay their salaries, benefits or retirement.
“I’m not looking to give up our buses and I don’t want to lose our drivers, but I have to recognize that the district cannot continue to pay the salaries and benefits,” Cleary said.
“I’ve known some of the drivers for 14 years, and I know a lot of them are community members and my intent is not to put anyone out of work.”
Cleary said she is also continuing informal conversations with Ypsilanti Superintendent Dedrick Martin on the possibility of further consolidating services. And a consulting agency already examined the two districts’ business offices to provide collaboration options.
“I’m open for suggestions because I’m not going to let this district fail,” Cleary said.
The district will likely take the global positioning systems out of buses, which saves $12,000. Samuelson said it would likely only present a problem to substitute bus drivers.
Cleary also issued a freeze in the district's discretionary budget, which will save roughly $175,000. She said paper will be reordered, but the district must manage what smaller supplies it has left.
“Anything that has a price tag to it has to go through me,” she said.
Further initial proposed cuts include moving commencement back to the Lincoln campus from Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center and moving to electronic communications for items like report cards. Combined, those measures would save $20,000.
Samuelson said board members are meeting with staff this week to seek other suggestions for reductions.
“Generally, they have some really good ideas because they see things that we sometimes don’t,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson said cuts are always a tough decision. But because the district has made reductions in recent years, it’s better off then many of its neighbors, she said. Still, she added, the district’s fund balance is gone and more cuts are absolutely necessary.
“We don’t take it lightly, and it’s a really difficult position for us to be in,” she said. “But one of the things our district does well is work together.”
Cleary said the most significant cuts will likely come next year.
“Probably the majority of those cuts will come out of the following school year because we can’t get much more into it without affecting the classroom,” she said.
The board is holding a public forum on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium to discuss a possible technology and facilities bond.Â Cleary said the bond is only for improving and enhancing existing buildings.
“Hopefully, we could offset some general funds expenses if we brought these buildings up to code,” she said.
Samuelson said the transportation issue will further be discussed at the board's Dec. 14 meeting.
â€¢ Another note: Lincoln Consolidated Schools will be featured on a Channel 7 program called “Best Schools in Michigan,” at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.