Saturday, 18 May 2024

Middletown Unified School District plans discussion on bus and developer fees

MIDDLETOWN – Facing budget challenges and the potential for tough times ahead, the Middletown Unified School District Board plans to discuss possible solutions at a meeting next week, where they'll also present the 2008-09 fiscal year budget.


Superintendent Korby Olson said the June 25 board meeting will include consideration of a charge to bus children to school – in light of major increases in fuel costs – and a possible increase in developer fees.


Both proposals will impact the district’s budget, as well as builders and parents, so Olson said the district wants to invite comment and input up front. No action will be taken on the proposals at the meeting.


Initially, the district, which serves about 1,700 students, was looking at having to cut as much as $850,000 from its $14 million budget, based on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed January budget. However, Olson said the May revise reduced necessary cuts by about $200,000.


In March the district gave out 10 layoff notice to teachers, said Olson. Six of those positions ultimately were cut from the district, but three positions were restored, four teachers retired, two resigned and one took a leave of absence.


The budget and its specifics will be presented at the June 25 meeting, he said.


Jim Comstock, who has been on the school board for 18 years, said he's seen similar tough times for the district “but not to this extent.”


“School financing tracks with the California economy,” Comstock said. “It's very cyclic.”


In past years, the district has issued layoff notices, but they've almost always been able to rescind them. “This is a little different.”


In an effort to find ways to address the shortfall, Olson said the district is considering busing fees.


“To my knowledge there's no one in the county charging for transportation right now,” he said of other districts.


However, he added, it's common practice for school districts in other areas.


The district's general fund currently contributes about $300,000 to transportation, he said. “That money could be used another way.”


While there's some reimbursement to the district from the state for transportation costs, it's not enough to cover everything, he said.


Then, there's the issue of rapidly rising gas prices, which Olson said has had a “tremendous” impact on the district's budget.


He had to adjust the district's transportation budget by $20,000 to finish out the year, he said.


The proposed budget for next year includes $222,000 for supplies and materials in its transportation budget, most of which is for fuel, said Olson. That amounts to a 50-percent increase over the 2007-08 budget year.


Fuel prices, said Comstock, have “hit everyone right up side of the head,” and the result is that those costs are eating up more of the district's budget.


“The encroachment into the general fund is becoming significant,” he said.


The district has some options, said Olson, and the board thought it was time to discuss them in order to spare cutting more personnel, materials and resources.


The board will consider the pros and cons of charging between $0.50 and $2 per day for bus service, said Olson. The lower rate would cost parents about $90 a year, the higher rate $360 a year.


“We have discussed for years the potential of having to charge a bus fee,” said Comstock.


Added Olson, “There are lots of question marks about how you do it,” which is why the board wants to discuss it with the community.


Instituting a charge for busing would help cover the rising costs of gas, said Olson; it also would help the district hire another bus driver, which it needs to do in order to maintain the bus runs it currently has.


Another option is to collapse or reduce the number of bus runs, said Olson. However, the district's bus drivers are reporting more ridership as more parents themselves grapple with fuel costs and take advantage of the bus services.


“That's the rub,” said Olson.


He added that the district can't do both options at once – collapsing runs while charging for services.


Comstock said several years ago the district instituted an athletic transportation fee, which helped it buy vans for transporting student athletes to games. There was no outcry over that measure, he added.


While the bus fees could help address more immediate concerns, the proposal to increase developer fees would be done with an eye to needed district upgrades and improvements, said Olson.


Developer fees, which were put in place many years ago, help address the impact on area schools that result from construction, he said. A fee is charged based on the square footage of a new home or commercial building.


Every other year, the state issues a new fee amount districts can seek, said Olson. In January the State Allocation Board adjusted the fees to $2.97 for residential development and $0.47 for commercial development.


Middletown Unified last adjusted its developer fees two years ago, he said, based on a developer fee justification study. The current rate is $2.63 for residential development and $0.42 for commercial development.


The developer fees, he explained, can only be used for school building and construction – not for any other purpose, like meeting budget shortfalls in other areas.


While current district enrollment “is very flat,” Olson said there are improvements the district needs to make for its student levels now.


The district's schools employ a lot of portable buildings, he said. “We're looking to improve our facilities and make them more up-to-date so we can eliminate some of the portables eventually.”


Accepting new fees will allow the district to keep up with inflation, said Olson.


“We haven't had much protest in the prior years when we've had this,” he said, adding that it's unlikely the district can do anything else but raise the fees.


However, he said the district is mindful that builders might not welcome the change, which is why they're being careful to notify the community to give everyone an opportunity to comment.


The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Middletown Multi-Use building, on Wardlaw Street. The district office can be reached at 987-4100, or visit them online at www.middletownusd.org.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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