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Ride the bus and make money for schools, officials say

LANGLEY — South Whidbey schools have an urgent message for students: As Greyhound used to say, take the bus and leave the driving to us.

It could mean thousands of dollars in funding for the district, said Veronica Schmidt, school transportation and food supervisor.

Student ridership during the week beginning Monday, Oct. 13, will determine how much transportation money the South Whidbey School District gets from the state, Schmidt said.

The count is based on a complicated formula involving miles driven “as the crow flies,” she said.

“Maybe we could make more money if we had four-wheel-drive buses to take shortcuts,” Schmidt said with a chuckle.

But the role of the students is simple, she added: Just ride the bus to school every day during that week.

“We can only count those students riding to school,” Schmidt said. “Not those riding home from school, not field trips, not sporting events.”

Based on the ridership count, the district received a little more than $535,000 from the state for the 2007-2008 school year, Schmidt said. But the cost of running the buses during that period was more than $900,000, she added.

Part of that cost was the high price of fuel.

The district has a fleet of 24 buses, Schmidt said, serving 11 full routes and four special-education routes. She said the buses get between five and six miles per gallon of diesel fuel, and last school year they burned 39,500 gallons at a cost of $131,000.

She said bus repairs ran about $200,000 last year, and most of the rest of the transportation budget was taken up by employee salaries.

Schmidt said that more students usually ride the bus home from school than to school, “and we don’t get funded for those at all.”

She also said ridership tends to increase during periods between sports seasons.

“We encourage all parents to have their kids ride the bus to school,” she said. “If we can get more kids to ride the bus, it would mean we could put more money back into the classrooms.”

She said riding a school bus is safer, reduces traffic congestion and pollution and consumes less fuel.

She said statistics show school buses are “the safest form of transportation for students, safer than getting into the car with your parents.”

“I’ve noticed that with the way the economy is and the price of fuel, the buses are a little bit fuller this year, and the parking lot at the high school is a little bit emptier,” Schmidt said.

She said the bus also provides a social setting for students, who can visit with their peers on the way to and from school.

“There are lots of good reasons to ride the bus,” she said. “And it’s free.”

Putting on her hat as food service supervisor for the district, Schmidt said that the bus schedules have been arranged so that there’s plenty of time for breakfast at school, for those who need it.

She said a listing of all the morning routes and pickup times is available online at www.sw.wednet.edu, or by calling the transportation office at 221-5209.

“We’re not allowed to bribe the kids with suckers or anything like that,” she added with a laugh. “We can only ask them to just please ride the bus.”

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