|Editor's Note: Please click and read the links at the bottom of this letter to respond to the proposed Calhoun County School Board policy|
In September 2005, upon the recommendation of the Superintendent, the Calhoun Board of Education approved without a vote the imposition of a 30 cents per mile fee for groups or organizations requesting school buses for curricular or extra-curricular travel; the fee being explained as the full fuel cost for a bus. It was stated the fee was necessary because of a rapid and unexpected increase in fuel costs that would cause a budget shortfall in the current budget, a reasonable request at the time. Only in passing did anyone mention or discuss the most important fact in this entire controversy; the state school funding formula provides 90% of county school systems' transportation costs.
I attended Board meetings in October and November, and again in March along with other citizens protesting this fee and expressed the position that the Board should rebate 27 cents per mile to the groups when reimbursement is received. For example, a 100 mile roundtrip bus trip resulted in a $30 bill to the group requesting the bus, and an additional $27 (90%) from the state. It should not be acceptable for our Board to collect anymore than the $3 not provided by the state formula from a local group, school organization, or Athletic Department.
In the above example the groups would and should have the $27 to spend on the mission of their groups, i.e., athletics, academics, clubs, etc. The Athletic Department at CM-HS should not pay more than 10% of the fuel cost for athletic trips; anything more results in fewer funds to purchase the items necessary to sustain the sports programs for our young people. The only funds the Athletic Department controls directly are revenue from ticket sales; one rainy night in football season can wreak havoc on that year's finances.
In response to the concerns presented by myself and others, school administration conducted a survey of other counties in the state concerning the question of collecting mileage fees for buses. The results presented to the Board revealed that some counties do collect fees while many don't.
An interesting question for that survey would have been, "If you collect a mileage fee, does your policy inform the public that you receive 90% reimbursement of the charge in addition to the fee you are collecting?" The answer is best illustrated by a Calhoun Schools policy now on comment until May 8, and scheduled for a vote at the regular May Board of Education meeting, Differentiated Reimbursement Schedule for School Bus Trips.
No place in the policy is the 90% reimbursement mentioned, as I would suspect is the case in any other county mileage fee policy. Citizens do not know, nor should they know, the details of the school funding formula, but when informed of the 90% reimbursement, I have yet to speak to one person who supports this policy. It should also be noted that the Board has recently received $23,000 from a special legislative supplement to counties for increased fuel costs. These funds are in addition to the mileage rates already collected since September 2005.
The central point of this controversy is not the cost of fuel, but rather the 90% reimbursement by the state. Should fuel increase 50 cents, the state provides 45 cents. I urge the citizens of our county to comment on this policy or contact Board members, Carlene Frederick, Rick Fitzwater, Don Harris, Joy Starcher and Cynthia Dale, prior to the Board meeting and urge rejection of this policy.
Please click and read here Differentiated Reimbursement Schedule for School Bus Trips Then click here Comment Form
for a printable comment form on the policy and return by May 8, 2006 to the address provided on the form.