Keep funding for charter school busing in Manatee

May 13, 2014 

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A school bus traveling on Manatee Avenue East passes by one of the five Muskogee crape myrtles planted in observance of National Arbor Day.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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The Manatee County school district is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place concerning money matters. With new state and federal penalties totaling $7 million and only weeks left in the fiscal year to pay that, the monumental task of cutting expenses is paramount.

One proposal on Tuesday's school board agenda should disappear. The cost cannot nearly make up for the millions the district stands in arrears.

Ending charter school bus service could be devastating to the students who are poor -- on free and reduced lunch service -- and depend on bus service to get to school. Yes, we agree, the district must chop expenses everywhere possible during this time of fiscal austerity, but there are places where students -- and parents -- are impacted too much.

The cost cannot nearly make up for the millions the district must pay in state and federal penalties -- amounting to $7 million this budget year -- for budget irregularities dating back to 2005.

Curtailing transportation service to charter schools that have proven to be exceptional would be a disservice to the community. Just for Girls Academy, Manatee School for the Arts and State College of Florida Collegiate School have all shown solid marks in student achievement.

Transportation service is essential to these and the other charter schools that contract with the school district. This is a critical service to the children who attend these schools.

While seven charter schools provide transportation via private companies, the five that rely on contracts with the school district for busing 1,300 students should be a major concern for the school board. Students and parents both depend on this service.

Yes, charter busing is expensive, as the district points out in a letter to the editor below: $367 per student per year.

"... the actual cost to the district would be more than $991,000 -- a deficit cost to the district of more than $520,000."

That's big money. A question: Is that enough money to erase more than a thousand students from bus service, enough to put those youngsters at risk of not being given the chance to finish high school and get the chance of a better life? That's the threat here, no matter how anyone paints this.

If anything, just charge a bit more, not the entire cost.

A simple thing as a bus ride to school should be a pleasant trip, not one fraught with wonders whether that would be the last one. Children deserve society's best opportunities. This is one.

Keep them on the bus.

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