San Dieguito district hears from bus riders on plan to eliminate school transportation

The San Dieguito Union High School District is gathering feedback on a proposal to eliminate middle school transportation and high school shuttles because of cost concerns and decreasing ridership. A survey went out to parents last week as the district considers re-deploying the fleet and drivers to support athletic field trips.

At the board’s March 19 meeting, parent Marybeth Norgren and her son spoke during public comment about the district’s plan to end bus service for middle schoolers.

“The lack of middle school bus service will make getting to work on time impossible,” Norgren said. “It’s disheartening that the district would choose to care more about transporting athletes than getting middle school students to their regular school day.”

Norgren lives in Del Mar Heights and has a seventh-grader at Earl Warren and a freshman at Canyon Crest Academy. She said while her children’s schools are eight minutes apart, that represents about 30 minutes of travel time in the morning.

Norgren said there is no public transit in the area and biking is not an option for students who live more than a mile from the middle schools, as the main thoroughfares are not bike-friendly — especially Lomas Santa Fe and Via de la Valle.

Norgren’s son, James Cederstav, wondered how he would travel the 4 1/2 miles between his house and his school if there is no bus.

“I’m in the Earl Warren band and I wouldn’t be able to take my instrument,” he said. “And I’m more likely to be late if I took my bike or rode with my parents.”

Norgren requested the district consider offering families the ability to pay a greater share or to consolidate multiple routes within neighborhoods.

Bus ridership has been declining at district schools for the past few years, peaking in 2010-11 with 1,307 rider. But for 2015-16, it is projected to be at 696 district-wide.

At Carmel Valley Middle School, ridership is expected to decline from 300 in 2014-15 to 247 for 2015-16. Earl Warren is expected to drop from 224 this year to 187 in the fall. There are 67 riders at Diegueno and 195 at Oak Crest.

The district’s fleet of 22 buses is aging, and updating it would cost the general fund $3 million over the next five years. Athletic transportation is also supported by the general fund, and the district’s 4,000 student athletes take more than 1,700 athletic trips a year.

School foundations cover roughly half the cost of athletic field trip transportation, and while athletic transportation donations have increased, the service is still heavily supported by the general fund. In 2014-15, $315,000 came out of the general fund and $325,000 from the foundation to cover costs.

Associate Superintendent of Business Services Eric Dill said that the district has already received well over 2,000 responses from the transportation survey. Dill said many comments and varied opinions were expressed that will be helpful in decision-making.

Dill said the district is also continuing to track Senate Bill 191 from Sen. Marty Block, which provides additional transportation funding for schools.