GOSHEN — The Goshen School Board discussed a number of options at its meeting Monday, May 13, that would help make up for the shortfall in the school system’s transportation fund, including possibly sending out a notice that Goshen may have to eliminate transportation for students altogether in a few years.
The notice would not require that Goshen Community Schools absolutely do away with its busing to and from schools, but would leave the option open if the schools’ budget issues would come to that.
Robert Evans, Goshen’s assistant superintendent of transportation and education services, talked to the board about several options that a transportation committee has recommended, including not providing funds for field trip or extra-curricular activities’ transportation, having buses pick up students at “hubs” in neighborhoods, rather than stopping at each house, and enforcing walk zones where sidewalks are in place.
Business manager Jerry Hawkins, though, pointed out that the recommendations do not meet the shortfall in this year’s transportation budget and would have even less of an impact next year.
Because of a bill passed in the most recent state legislative session, the school corporation is able to have more flexibility in how it handles its shortfall, Hawkins explained, but will still have a loss of $500,000 in its transportation budget alone. He estimates the shortfall in next year’s budget to be closer to $1.2 million.
Evans estimates the transportation committee’s recommendations would save the district $350,000 at the very most.
The shortfalls in the transportation fund, along with a few others, are due to the tax caps on local property taxes.
Hawkins expects the budget worries to get worse. There are three school corporations in Indiana functioning without transportation, bus replacement and capital project funds because of tax caps “and there is no legislative plan to help them,” Hawkins said, which makes him want to not wait or depend on the state changing something in the school districts’ favor.
“Indiana Code says that if we decide we do not want to offer transportation, we need to give a three-year notice,” Evans said, “and if we don’t give a three-year notice, we can’t stop offering transportation ... if it does indeed continue down this path.” The board would be able to change its decision and continue offering transportation even if a notice did go out.
The school board did not take any action on the transportation issues or the idea of sending out a notice, only discussed them, but Dan West, a Goshen school board member, said about the notice to not offer busing that he’s “the last person in the world who wants to do that, but I’m sitting here, thinking we don’t have a choice.”
Superintendent Diane Woodworth again encouraged people to contact their state legislators about the impact the tax caps are having on their district and the city of Goshen. She and some board members also brought up issues of safety with so many children possibly walking to school or to bus pick-up “hubs.”
Among a few members of the public who had questions and comments about the transportation issues and recommendations was Goshen High School band director Tom Cox.
He told the board that he realized that it had difficult decisions ahead of it, but asked that something be done to help out the music department in paying for its trips, which it would do under the transportation committee’s recommendations.
Each member of the marching band already pays $250 to participate, which helps cover the cost of costumes, transportation, meals and other expenses. The band currently pays for 30 percent of its transportation, but would have to charge each student between $90 and $100 more if the band were to pay for all of its own transportation, Cox said. He recognized that the board has “an insurmountable task,” but asked that the board find some way to stagger the amount the band would pay over a few years or assist in some way.
“I will have kids not participate,” he said about the possible cost increases. “I don’t know what to do.”
Goshen’s transportation study group included school teachers and principals, community members, school board member and Evans.
Elkhart and Concord school districts are in similar situations to Goshen, with tightened transportation budgets. Elkhart announced its changes, including new elementary boundaries, new school bell times and other changes to schools, last week.