Cash-Strapped Indiana Districts Eye Bus Service Cuts

Courtney Williams's picture
Monday, October 31, 2011

School districts across Indiana could find themselves risking parental wrath by getting out of the transportation business as they struggle with shrinking revenues and property tax caps.

The Franklin Township school district in suburban Indianapolis angered thousands of parents a few months ago when it contracted with a partner that’s now charging families what will amount to more than $400 per child this school year for bus service. And lean times could force other districts in similar straits to take a hard look at bus service.

Indiana’s attorney general is poised to issue an opinion on the legality of Franklin Township’s move.

District Superintendent Walter Bourke said a decision against Franklin Township could force the district to eliminate transportation entirely. But he expects legislators next year to consider a law that would require school districts to transport students — a law he said could force struggling districts into bankruptcy if it passes.

“If you look at what requiring transportation would mean to districts statewide, it would be millions and millions of dollars,” Bourke said.

That’s money many stressed districts just don’t have, due in large part to property tax caps passed by the Legislature in 2008. Schools’ transportation budgets, along with school bus replacement and capital projects, are funded entirely from property taxes.

Officials in the Mount Vernon school district just east of Indianapolis find themselves in the same boat, as the district’s assessed value has dropped 22 percent since 2008 and property taxes have lessened what the schools can collect from that. A financial consultant earlier this month outlined potential areas to cut expenses, and one option was eliminating bus service except for transporting special needs students as required by law.

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