San Dieguito to survey parents regarding elimination of middle school bus routes

Traffic control at Pacific Trails Middle School on the first day of school.
(Miquel Jacobs)

The San Dieguito Union High School District is planning to send out a school bus ridership survey in the coming week as they gauge the impact of the first full school year without middle school transportation.

Last June, the board approved eliminating the seven middle school bus routes as they dealt with a budget deficit and declining ridership, which had decreased by 65% from 2008 to 2016. All middle school routes were cut but the district continues to offer transportation for students with special needs and shuttle services to Torrey Pines and Sunset High Schools for its highest-need students.

While 300 morning bus passes and 428 afternoon passes were sold in 2019-20, the actual ridership numbers were lower, according to Associate Superintendent of Business Services Tina Douglas.

Parents pay about $750 for bus passes (the highest cost in the county) and the passes cover less than half of the district’s costs for transportation. Douglas said many parents seem to purchase the passes “just in case” as only 14% of those who purchased morning passes used them and 26% used the afternoon passes.

The district’s highest bus use was in Carmel Valley, where two morning routes were at 100% capacity and another at 90% in 2019-20. The afternoon routes were up to 75% capacity.

With the cuts last year there was very little community outreach because students were not at school in-person for much of the year, however, as this new school year begins, some parents are requesting that the routes be reconsidered.

A petition started by Carmel Valley parent Emily Engel has so far gathered 180 signatures, asking that San Dieguito reinstate school bus service so that students’ safety can be improved, parental stress can be mitigated and the carbon footprint reduced. She said providing transportation could also help make an impact on “brutal” school traffic.

One of the reasons she chose Carmel Valley Middle School for her child was that a bus stop conveniently picked up students on the corner of her street, at Ocean Air Community Park.

“I’m very appreciative and grateful that school is open,” Engel said. “I support what they are doing but if the board is talking about how to utilize funds, it would be nice if they reconsidered the bus service.”

By restructuring transportation, the district would have saved $700,000 in a normal year. However, last year because school was not in full session and only four days a week for the last part of the year, Douglas said they saved about $1 million because they were able to do all of their transportation in-house rather than contract it out.

The results of the transportation survey were anticipated to be discussed at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting.