Lakota Board Votes to Reinstate Freshman Busing

Lakota Local Schools Board Votes to Reinstate Freshman Transportation
Posted on 11/19/2019
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At its Nov. 18 meeting, the Lakota Board of Education voted unanimously to reinstate transportation services for freshman students, effective for the 2020-21 school year for students living outside of neighborhoods with walking paths or sidewalks that lead to schools.

“This topic has been a major point of discussion in our community for several years,” said Board President Julie Shaffer. “Since high school busing was eliminated in 2011, the board has had to weigh the financial implications of fully reinstating transportation with the requests of our community. Through the district’s diligent fiscal responsibility over the years, we are now in a better position to offer busing to our freshman students beginning in the fall.”

The decision comes after several weeks of deliberation by the board. In addition to the updated five-year forecast that was presented at the meeting, the board’s analysis has included everything from enrollment projections to forecasted costs from Lakota’s contracted transportation provider to a recent community survey initiated by the board. Those results reinforced an overwhelming message the board has heard for several years from parents.

“The subject of high school busing has been brought up time and time again through Community Conversations, coffee chats, board meetings and other stakeholder interactions,” Shaffer said. “The majority of the decisions the school board makes stem from these types of discussions and what we believe is in the best interest of our students while balancing our financial objectives.” 

In 2011, Lakota decreased its transportation services to meet the state minimum, which requires busing for all K-8 students living farther than two miles from school. Following the levy passage in 2013, Lakota upheld its promise to widen busing services. Since then, the district has continued to further expand coverage to students in grades K-8, now excluding only those students who live in neighborhoods with walking paths or sidewalks that lead to school. 

“I am pleased that our fiscal responsibility has enabled Lakota’s Board of Education to be in a position to approve busing for freshman students,” said Superintendent Matthew Miller. “Our parents have asked for transportation to be restored for many years and now we are able to deliver. This is a complex issue and I appreciate the board’s thorough attention to the details presented throughout this process.”

The move to expand coverage to freshman students living in neighborhoods without walking paths or sidewalks leading to school anticipates about $1.9 million in funding for the 34 additional routes projected for Lakota students. Another $825,000 will cover the 15 additional routes needed for students within the district boundaries attending seven non-Lakota schools. State law requires public school districts to provide equal transportation coverage for all students attending public and non-public schools within a 30-minute driving distance. 

Through deliberate fiscally responsible decisions, the district has managed to exceed Lakota’s original levy promises made in 2013 beyond just busing. That includes programs like all-day kindergarten without a lottery, six daily specials for grades K-6, a one-to-one technology program for grades 6-12, expanded course offerings like the new Lakota Cyber Academy, mental health supports and reimagined Innovation Hubs to facilitate digital learning and collaboration among both students and staff. 

“Lakota is in the strongest financial position it has been in years. We have managed to maximize services to our students while still being good stewards of our taxpayers’ dollars,” Shaffer said. “The new programming we’ve introduced in recent years has been accomplished without deficit spending and with a significant cash reserve.”

In June, the school board approved three new policies designed to be guardrails to structure the way we assess district finances and protect its long-term financial stability, including a budget stabilization, cash balance reserve and structurally balanced budget policy. The board was guided by the Lakota Finance Committee, which is comprised of members of local business and district leaders, including school board members Kelley Casper and Lynda O’Connor.

“We have discussed reinstating high school busing several times since 2011,” said Lakota Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Jenni Logan. “The board feels comfortable enough with our financial stability at this time to justify this added expenditure. We’re happy to be able to alleviate some of the burden that has fallen on our high school families for so many years.”