MUNCIE – Muncie Community Schools is running out of options on how to keep its school buses from hitting the brakes by the next school year.
The school board met for the first time Tuesday since the community voted down a tax increase that would pay for school buses. It was also days after an Indiana Department of Education panel denied a waiver to end services the district could no longer afford.
“They [IDOE] agreed totally that we simply cannot afford bus service,” said Mark Burkhart, Muncie Community Schools Chief Financial Officer. “The words they used were ‘bleak’ and ‘unenviable’.”
With 75-percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches, Burkhart said the community can’t foot the bill either. The school system is already cutting one-third of its costs by running fewer buses on more consolidated routes and pick-up and drop-off locations. Despite that, it still needs to come up with $2-million in funding a year to keep buses going.
Burkhart attributes the district’s debt to property tax caps that have hurt how Indiana schools get their revenue.
“The other fund we can tap in on is the General Fund, which doesn’t have any extra money,” said Burkhart. “It will require reduction in staffing in order to generate $2-million.”
Shannon Yarger, a parent who works as a consultant for companies in crises, believes more can be done. He spoke at the board meeting to offer solutions such as route consolidation, staggering bell times, reduction of stand-by buses, and negotiating longer contracts for better pricing.
“I think it’s an absolute crisis,” he said. “Every bus needs to have a butt in every seat. It’s absolutely critical we keep it going and keep it safe, but also find ways to make sure taxpayers are taken care of and we’re getting the most bang for our buck.”
School leaders have another two weeks to come up with a funding plan. The next school board meeting is scheduled on January 28.