Sacramento payback led to transportation cuts

The story of how the home-to-school transportation budget got slashed is not pretty and the aftermath of the bill that made it happen is causing much unhappiness among the Democrats in the State Legislature.

On Thursday, Jan. 5, the Redwood Times received a phone call from Teala Schaff of State Senator Noreen Evans’ Sacramento office. Schaff had been alerted to the posting of the January 3 article about the school bus meeting at Redway School and wanted us to know that both State Senator Evans and Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro have received the letters sent on behalf of the school district, but were unable to act because the legislature was not in session over the holidays.

Schaff said that staff from both legislative offices are trying to catch up and have been meeting and talking with the Humboldt Supervisors and the County Office of Education. She had spoken to Southern Humboldt Unified School District Superintendent Jim Stewart, she said, and assured him that they were aware of the crisis.

"Other school districts are facing the same issue," Schaff said. "We’re trying to figure out where we can find support and what’s feasible. There are lots of cooks in the kitchen."

Schaff said Senator Evans fought hard to keep the cut out of the final budget. That may be so, but both Evans and Chesbro voted for AB 121, the bill that targeted home-to-school transportation for the big cut as part of the budget package.

At Schaff’s suggestion, we contacted Stephen Rhoads of Strategic Education Services, which represents a coalition of school transportation departments.

Rhoads says that AB 121 came about at the tail end of negotiations to come up with a budget that would pass both houses of the legislature and be approved by the governor. Rhoads says that what has been rumored about was true and that the Democrats thought that cutting transportation would hurt the Republicans. In the end, it doesn’t hurt the Republicans at all, because none of them voted for AB 121. It was passed with a large Democratic majority, including Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who is currently running for Congress.

Rhoads says that the Democrats were following the direction of their leadership and may not even have known what they were approving.

Both Evans and Chesbro are now experiencing some buyer’s remorse. Chesbro has been getting a lot of mail and phone calls and is meeting in caucus with his peers to come up with a way to restore the funding. Evans, too, is scrambling to undo the damage.

One possible solution, Rhoads says, is to turn the bus transportation cut into a revenue limit cut. This is what Dr. Garry Eagles at the County Office of Education has suggested would be a better solution. It would allow districts to maintain their transportation program at the cost of a reduction of about $40 per student to their ADA allowance.

Rhoads, who represents a coalition of school transportation departments, says that some state senators and assembly members are opposed to this. He says also that there are indications that the governor would like to eliminate the transportation budget altogether. As has been noted at school board meetings, the state constitution does not require the state to provide money for transportation of students.

"Anything can be undone," Rhoads says, "but the governor doesn’t want it."

Rural areas are apparently not the only areas affected by the cuts to school transportation. The Los Angeles Unified School District has filed a lawsuit against Governor Jerry Brown to block budget cuts. That district is under a court-ordered desegregation plan. Under that plan 35,000 students are voluntarily bused to magnet schools. Additionally, they provide transportation for 13,000 special-needs students.