Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 3:27 PM on Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Savings by changing school bus system shouldn't be ignored


Thanks to legislators (and barring a veto from Gov. Sean Parnell), families on the southern Kenai Peninsula won't have to overhaul their schedules next school year. Because of passage of Senate Bill 182, school districts across the state will receive more money for student transportation.

For southern peninsula schools, that means school start and end times will remain the same — at least for this year.

Unlike other parts of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District where one school bus makes pickups and deliveries for two different schools, thus creating the need for different start and end times, schools in the southern part of the district have been on a single-tier system, in which every bus picks up and delivers students to only one school.

To mess with that system is akin to the sky falling, judging from the testimony of lots of folks. Students apparently are a little more flexible than their elders, though. A straw poll conducted at Homer High School showed 60 percent of the students would prefer an earlier start time — much to the surprise of school administrators.

Preferences aside, by going to the double-tier system in place throughout the rest of the district, officials estimate a savings of more than $500,000.

In any economy, but particularly where public dollars are concerned, that's no small change.

The school board, district officials and communities of the southern peninsula will be remiss if they don't explore how to realize that savings. Wouldn't that money be better spent in the classroom? Offering more programs or strengthening existing ones? Going to attract and retain the best employees possible?

Good stewardship of the public's money is only part of the equation; fairness is the other. We're sure the double-tier system in other parts of the district poses inconveniences to families there. Somehow, they've adapted. It's fair to ask: What's unique about the southern peninsula that exempts those schools from the same kind of schedule? Maybe there are different factors at play; maybe not.

In any case, the Legislature has given the school district a reprieve from making some tough decisions that many saw as an unnecessary upheaval.

But before the issue is forgotten until the next financial crisis, which is likely just around a corner, communities on the southern peninsula should take the lead in working with the school board, district and individual schools to come up with a solution that saves that kind of money. A committee, which should include parents, students, teachers as well as district representatives and that will have the ear of those making the decisions, should be appointed.

The district also needs to show it has learned some lessons from what happened this year.

For one, call an issue what it is. "School transportation" doesn't tell people what's happening. "Changes to school start and end times" does.

For another, don't ask for people's ideas if you have no intention of using them. Feigning collaboration is worse than no collaboration at all. If there's only one way to do this, then tell people that, let them vent if they don't like it and move on. On the other hand, there may be a far better way to save the $500,000-plus and it can only be found by working together.

Parents and school officials who opposed the proposed changes also need to rethink their strategy. Among the most valuable skills students can learn are adaptability, cooperation and collaboration. Wouldn't it be great to see those skills modeled by their parents, teachers and others in positions of authority in real-life situations?

In general, southern peninsula communities should take advantage of this opportunity to show their neighbors in other parts of the peninsula that we know we're all in this together. That will mean not just saying "no way" to what the district offers as a solution, but working together to find an answer that saves at least a like amount of money as the double-tier bus system does and furthers the cause of good education.