Rising costs, fewer students
School transportation costs have soared in West Virginia,
Gasoline prices have shot up. Liability insurance costs more.
Bus driver salaries are rising. And West Virginia school buses are traveling
more miles every year.
?At one time you had 25 students on a ridge,? said Jay Yeager,
transportation director in Wetzel County. ?Now there are only three. We have to
run the bus on more roads to fill up the buses. If there are only two students
on a ridge, we?re still required to go up there.?
West Virginia spends nearly 7 percent of its education budget
on transportation, more than any state in the nation, according to data from
School Bus Fleet Magazine. Four counties ? Gilmer, Clay, Tyler and Doddridge ?
West Virginia ranks 10th in the nation on transportation
haul children to school.
?There?s virtually no incentive to control costs,? said Julio
Massad, a consultant who studied West Virginia school transportation in 1998.
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Massad recommended numerous ways to control costs, from changes
in the state?s school funding formula to cutting salaries for bus drivers, who
are paid for full-time work when they only work part of the day.
The rising transportation costs have forced counties to slash
elsewhere: in classrooms, offices and cafeteria kitchens.
?They don?t have enough cooks to cook the meals,? said state
the state funding formula.
To pay for bus drivers in Pocahontas County, the school board
eliminated weekend custodians who clean the schools.
The state?s funding formula distributes money based on
enrollment, not the number of students who ride buses or the number of miles
Last year, state schools Superintendent David Stewart
recommended that legislators allocate $3.6 million to hire 119 additional bus
drivers. Legislators rejected the request.
West Virginia has taken at least one step to curb costs since
1998: School buses are now retired after 12 years of service instead of 10. The
change saves the state $2.3 million a year.
To contact staff writers Eric Eyre and Scott Finn, use e-
mail or call 357-4323.