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A formula that doesn’t fit reality

Students board the bus Monday morning en route to Poulsbo Elementary. The district bus rider count was conducted Sept. 29 to Oct. 3. - Brad Camp/Staff photo
Students board the bus Monday morning en route to Poulsbo Elementary. The district bus rider count was conducted Sept. 29 to Oct. 3.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff photo

NORTH END — It’s more than complicated.

It’s dizzying and can make the eyes go cross-eyed for the better part of an afternoon. But it’s from this transportation funding formula, which went into effect in 1984, that the North Kitsap School District Transportation Department calculates its ridership to receive state transportation dollars.

“The documents we get to start on it are this thick,” said Director of Tranpsortation Ron Lee, holding his hands far apart, before retrieving the stack of disheveled papers, which are a solid six inches.

It all began with bus ridership count week, Sept. 29 through Oct. 3. For five consecutive days every driver for NKSD’s 76 general education, 14 kindergarten and 36 special education morning runs kept track of how many students got on at every stop, where they got off and the totals for the day.

Each route has an average of 20 stops.

Although neither Lee nor the department have the final counts, they’ll spend the next three weeks compiling it all. Leesaid it’s near impossible to make a guesstimate at how numbers will shake out.

For those students who ride the bus less than a mile to school, the state only reimburses students from kindergarten through fifth grade. The reimbursement rate is low, Lee said.

This even further complicates figuring the numbers.

“The hard part is, because of mileage, we could have a whole ton of new kids move from the one-mile radius to the four-mile radius and the exact count of students could be the same, but moved to a higher mileage pay,” Lee explained. “So the number of students doesn’t really tell you anything.”

In addition to no money for under a mile traveled there’s another catch.

Funding and counts aren’t determined based on the actual number of students who ride the bus. The number of riders per bus are based on the highest reoccurring number of students who get on at each stop — the mode. The stop modes are added to nail down how many students ride each bus, and therefore how the state figures its per district transportation funds.

“It’s a complicated, messy formula,” Lee said.

And it’s a formula that doesn’t even come close to adequately funding NKSD’s transportation needs, as it’s currently based on linear mileage — as the crow flies — and not the actual distance the bus drives.

For the 2007-08 school year Lee said the state only funded 60 percent of the district’s transportation operating costs, and that only includes to and from school service. The state does not provide money for late, activity or co-curricular runs.

However, this is changing.

For the 2009-10 year, the state is developing new funding models based more accurately on the true mileage a bus travels. Lee said the state will have three models, which will “hopefully be able to fund transportation more equitably.”

Also on a positive, forward moving note, Lee said things have been operating smoothly for the department. Especially in light of last year, which saw two bus accidents on the first day of school, the opening of a new high school and changing start times and boundaries.

“It was the worst year in my whole career,” he said. “It was nonstop, it just never stopped — road construction and trying to get buses to schools on time — it was a real mess.”

This year Agate, Options and Spectrum shuttles and late activity runs were eliminated as were some services into cul de sacs and dead-end roads. Kids must walk a little further, and board policy states a student can walk up to a mile, if it’s safe to do so.

Lee uses more than five criteria to determine how safe a route is. If a parent thinks a route is unsafe for students to walk, the department will go evaluate it. If a parent doesn’t agree with the evaluation Lee himself will go check it out. He said on a “normal” year the department receives approximately 250 requests to change a stop or add a new one.

“So far it’s been a pretty good opening,” Lee said. “For what’s changed, it’s pretty normal.”

To contact the Transportation Department, e-mail nktrans@nkschools.org or call (360) 394-2880.

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