Menifee Union eliminates busing for general ed students – Press

As many as 1,300 elementary and middle school students in Menifee and parts of Murrieta and Lake Elsinore will no longer be able to rely on school buses to get to and from their campuses.

Menifee Union School District officials announced this week that the district is eliminating school transportation for general education students to help offset an estimated $2 million budget deficit.

As mandated by law, the district still must provide bus service to students with special education needs and children who are homeless, officials said in a news release. Limiting transportation to the mandated students should save the district about $700,000 over the next school year, officials said.

District spokeswoman Betti Cadmus said escalating costs for busing contributed to the trustees’ recent decision on transportation, despite their realization it would be unpopular with parents who use the service.

“Obviously, people are frustrated with this situation,” Cadmus said. “Transportation industry costs continue to rise and Menifee Union regrettably had no choice but to suspend this service due to budgetary reasons. This decision was not taken lightly.”

While administrators anticipated that busing would cost about $1.5 million per year, the price tag climbed over $2 million as a result of increased ridership. The popularity occurred in part because the district halted charging parents for the service. The district receives only $179,000 per year for transportation costs.

“We looked at a lot of different areas (for reductions),” District board President Bob O’Donnell said. “We wanted to keep anything we were doing as far away as possible from the classroom. What it came down to is, looking at the increases we were seeing in transportation, it was time to really bite the bullet.”

The announcement, including a post on the district’s Facebook site, provoked several hundred comments from parents, many of them critical of the decision.

In an interview Thursday, Menifee parent Krisha Wallkamm said she does not know how she will get her 11-year-old daughter to Menifee Middle School when the academic year starts on Aug. 14.

“I think it’s ridiculously appalling that the district came to this decision to cut out busing,” Wallkamm said. “It’s really unfortunate to think that we have a population of about 10,000 students and there’s plenty of traffic on the roads to and from school, and (the district is) going to cluster the entire town with parents trying to drive their children back and forth. The unfortunate thing is some of these parents work and they rely on busing.”

The move comes only months after the district was able to pass a $135-million bond measure on the November ballot. Measure Q is providing money to buy land and build two elementary schools and one middle school, as well as repair Menifee Valley Middle School.

Also in 2016, Menifee Union dedicated its new $17-million District Education Center along Haun Road near Menifee City Hall. In addition, it opened the $27-million Harvest Hills STEAM magnet school.

Menifee City Councilman Matt Liesemeyer said he is concerned about the repercussions of the decision, even though his daughter, who attends Evans Ranch Elementary School, does not ride the bus.

“I’m upset about the fact that there’s going to be more cars and traffic impacts around the schools,” he said. “From my perspective, it’s going to have impacts and (district officials) have not mitigated for them.”

Liesemeyer said he plans to look into what can be done to ease traffic around the schools.

Menifee Union serves about 10,000 students at three middle schools, 10 elementary schools and a pre-school. O’Donnell estimated about 500 families will need to find alternatives to school transportation.

Over his 32-year tenure as a trustee, O’Donnell said, the board has wrestled with transportation spending several times in the past, but never entirely cut the unmandated service.

Cadmus said Menifee Union has a fleet of eight buses that operate on compressed natural gas and several older ones that run on diesel fuel. Because of rising ridership, the number of routes for general education students expanded from nine in the 2015-16 to 14 last year.

Yet, according to O’Donnell, the percentage of ridership generally has declined through the years with suburbanization and the proliferation of neighborhood schools accessible on foot or bicycle.

In cutting transportation, Menifee is following a trend in the region. The Lake Elsinore Unified School District halted busing to general education pupils. Two other districts with elementary and middle schools adjacent to Menifee, Val Verde and Romoland, no longer provide transportation except as required.

BUS CUT

What: The Menifee Unified School District will no longer provide busing to general education students

When: Policy takes effect in the coming school year, which starts Aug. 14

How many: About 1,300 students affected from an estimated 500 families

Why: To help offset an approximately $2 million deficit caused by escalating costs, including transportation

Info: 951-672-1851 or menifeeusd.org

 

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