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Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

New formula may allow full busing to resume

St. Marys schools

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - A new state transportation funding formula could allow St. Marys to reinstate full busing within the next month.
School board members on Tuesday met with Ohio School Board Association's Senior Transportation Coordinator Pete Japikse in a special work session to discuss funding.
Japikse said the new formula is based on the number of miles traveled and the number of students taking the bus.
"So it stands to reason that the more students you have riding the bus, the more funding you would receive," he said.
According to Japikse's calculations, the district will receive $352,883 if officials continue with state minimum busing - no busing for high school students or students living within two miles of the school - which was initiated this year as part of nearly $1.5 million in cuts.
If full busing is reinstated, the district would receive $551,856, a net difference of $198,973. Japikse said the cost of reimplementing full busing is about $140,000, so the district would have $58,973 to spare.
"It's a travesty that our economic environment forces you to take your kids off the bus ... but you have a unique opportunity here that really is a win-win," he said.
Under the new formula, the state also is providing additional funds to districts that qualify as low-income, low-density. Japikse said St. Marys qualifies according to current calculations, but the numbers will probably change.
If St. Marys does qualify, the district would receive an additional $137,574 in transportation funding.
"I hope for your sake you stay in eligibility but I'm not confident I trust what data they (the state) are using," Japikse said. "I'm not comfortable that you'll qualify for supplemental eligibility."
This year's funding will be based on the number of students and miles traveled during the first full week of October, "so you'd have to reinstate full busing by then," Japikse said.
Board member Ralph Wiley asked why the formula suddenly changed.
"Districts have been making tough decisions based on the old way, and now they're throwing this at us," he said.
Japikse said in the 1980s the state transportation formula was a very simple calculation of a certain amount of money for every mile traveled and number of students. In the 1990s, statisticians were hired to create a new formula to more accurately represent needed funding.
"It got so complicated that no one was able to calculate what they would get," he said.
The state then hired Japikse in the early 2000s to create a more simplified formula. Using the original formula, he created a new one, based again on number of students and miles traveled. Officials at the Ohio Department of Education, however, didn't want to use the new formula.
When Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011, he said the state was broke and drastic cuts were needed, Japikse said.
"He decided what was best for schools was to cut all strings and get rid of all formulas, but no one knew what was going to happen," he said.
For the last two years, transportation funding was determined by adding 2 percent to the previous year's funding, Japikse said. With state finances stabilizing, officials decided to implement Japikse's formula in the budget released in July.
Japikse said St. Marys also could qualify for a one-time grant of $50,438 from the Straight A fund. The grant would be unencumbered and be used on a new bus, maintenance, salaries or any other transportation-related need. However, he cautioned the board to not count on the grant.
Superintendent Shawn Brown after the meeting said the information presented was straight forward, and he didn't think much more discussion would be necessary.
"I'll make the recommendation (to reinstate full busing) during our September board meeting, and I would hope they (the board) will approve it," he said.
The board's next regular meeting is 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 in the high school auditorium.
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