Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:23 PM on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Too little, too late:

District only giving lip service to collaboration on plans to reduce student transportation costs

By Brett Glidden

To quote the school district's website, "KPBSD wants to hear your ideas and solutions to solve a $750,000 transportation deficit caused by an increase in the transportation costs from First Student."

This sounded like a great idea when I first read it. Include the community in the problem solving and decision making considering school changes impact so many families, employees and community members.

It is still a great idea. However, after taking the district up on the invitation, I have experienced anything but the collaboration and transparency I had expected.

I am uncomfortable criticizing an idea unless I have another one to offer. I began to gather information needed to generate a proposal in December after I reviewed the one on the district's website. I naively assumed this was the idea. The website was completely inadequate for this.

I asked central offices for any information used to design the current proposal. I had phone calls and emails unreturned several times and was passed on from person to person just as often. As a site council member I asked that all of the necessary information go to each school site council so that we could put our heads together. I was told that the recent meetings scheduled were specifically intended to answer these types of questions.

Now that we've had them when is the next meeting so that I can put my ideas on the table? The board votes in early May and comments aren't even being gathered on the website any longer.

I understand that compromise is necessary when money is short. My hometown of 1,300 had limited resources and I rode the "late bus 8" for many years. We were picked up 50 minutes after school let out as the bus had to make two runs. I complained about it to be sure, but I also had my homework done before leaving school and had good grades thanks to the inconvenience.

Compromise, however, involves two parties working together and that's not what's happening here. I used my three minutes to address the school board; it certainly didn't feel collaborative. We are invited to attend board working sessions but only to observe. The KPBSD organizational chart puts students, parents, community members and businesses at the highest level of stakeholders, but I'm not being treated that way.

We have been invited to table in the 11th hour and all we can realistically do is critique what has already been decided. An ad hoc committee could have been working on this inevitable budget crisis for years. When the state changed its funding of pupil transportations six years ago, I believe the writing was on the wall. Four years ago, when the contract with First Student expired, did a "Requests For Proposals" result in other bids or did we know then we were doing business in a monopoly? Has the district researched private versus public busing costs recently or a combination of both?

When Mr. Jones is claiming a decrease in cost per student for transportation from $550.63 to $367.08 with the new system, he's not telling you that included in these calculations are the middle and high school students that live within 1.5 miles of the schools that aren't even permitted to ride the bus. Yes, these students are considered in the state funding yet do not receive the service. We can put a band aid on this problem in the short term with a two-tiered bus system and sweeping changes in school day opening and closing times, but we cannot ignore the overarching issues of incongruent funding and lack of sustainability. We have to get more involved in the decision-making process in our school district. Please call or write our local School Board members Liz Downing and Sunni Hilts and ask them to form a committee with community member representation. It deserves more attention and we, the stakeholders, deserve to be heard.

Brett Glidden is a parent of two kindergartners at McNeil Canyon Elementary School.