Yellow-bus rides could cost green 

Thousands of San Francisco students rely on traditional yellow buses to get to and from school every day, but the district may reduce buses or begin charging a fee in order to save money.

Each day, 4,600 students — many of whom do not live in the neighborhood where they attend school — ride district-supplied buses, according to SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe. That’s not including the 1,600 disabled students for whom bus service is mandatory.

It costs $20.5 million each year to provide buses, $8.2 million of which is reimbursed by state transportation funds, Blythe said. The remaining $12.3 million comes from the same district money that pays for textbooks, teacher salaries, services and supplies.

Trustees weighed a number of options, including a bus fee or service reductions, at a recent Budget and Business Services Committee meeting, trustee Norman Yee said.

"We’re exploring whether it’s legally possible to [charge a fee], and the answer is yes," said Yee, who expects to discuss transportation options with the full board June 3.

Reducing service or leaving buses alone are other options on the table, according to Yee, who added that any changes would be made long before parents choose which schools they’d like their children to attend.

Parents, however, do not always have the choice to send their child to the school closest to home. Partly as a result of a 1982 court order to integrate San Francisco’s public schools, the district now utilizes a complex system that considers a range of socioeconomic factors when assigning students to schools and sends students to schools outside of their neighborhood when the demand for that school exceeds requests.

The district’s current bus system is built upon the bus routes established by the court order, with changes made throughout the years to accommodate changes in student demand and comply with the federal order, which expired at the end of 2005.

Other California school districts, such as the San Mateo Union High School District and the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, already charge a fee to ride the school bus. In both districts, a year of round-trip service costs $360.

School districts are allowed to charge up to $3.85 per trip, according to information provided by the district, which noted that a $1.50 fare would raise roughly $910,000 per year. Discounts for low-income students and families with more than one child will be considered, according to the district. More than half of the district’s students — 57 percent — qualified for free or reduced lunch, according to 2005-06 data.

Most of the district’s schools offer some form of bus service, but some — such as Galileo High School in the Marina — rely on them to bring students in from far-flung neighborhoods, according to Assistant Principal Gerry Courtney.

"We have a lot of students from the Sunset and Richmond, and without the [bus], it wouldn’t be possible for them to attend," said Linda Lau, president of the Galileo Parent Teacher Student Association.

Parents at Galileo would be more likely to support a fee than service cuts, Lau said.

By comparison, some 20,000 youths ages 5 to 17 purchase passes each month to ride Muni buses, according to Metropolitan Transit Authority spokesman Judson True.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

The SFUSD is considering a charge for students to ride district-provided buses.

4,600: General-education students who ride buses daily

1,600: Disabled students who ride buses daily

$20.5 million: Cost per year to provide school buses for 6,200 students

$8.2 million: Amount reimbursed by state

$910,000: Amount the district could make if it charged $1.50 per bus trip

$360: Cost some school districts charge per year for each student for round-trip bus service

20,000: Number of youth passes Muni sells per month

$10: Cost of a youth Muni monthly pass

Source: SFUSD, SFMTA

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Beth Winegarner

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