MIFFLINBURG — The Mifflinburg Area School District will begin a staggered busing schedule this fall, a move expected to save $155,000 annually but create trips of 66 minutes for some pupils.
Come August, those in grades 6 to 12 will be in buses by 6:45 a.m. and in class from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Those in kindergarten through fifth grade will be in buses by 7:45 a.m. and in class from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“The key area is savings,” Superintendent Dan Lichtel said at Tuesday night’s special meeting, where the proposal passed 7-2.
The two-tier schedule using fewer buses making more runs would save Mifflinburg about $155,000, he said.
“That’s two teachers,” school board Vice President Donita Keister said.
Mifflinburg faces a $1.3 million deficit in its preliminary 2014-15 budget of about $28 million, Lichtel said.
Including bus-trip times, the new schedule makes for about an eight-hour day for students. Lichtel said he and district transportation director David Oberlin studied routes and times using new transportation software, and found the most time any one child will spend on a bus is 66 minutes.
Mifflinburg expects savings by using only half the number of buses that it currently uses.
Staggered busing is among the difficult decisions the Mifflinburg school board has made over the past three years.
Board President Ken Wright alluded to the vote in 2012 to close three outlying elementary schools, which some parents fought hard.
“But these decisions have enabled us to avoid cuts,” he said, mainly to programs and staff. “This decision is correct. ... It’s a clear, significant cost savings and a plan to reduce the impact to the budget,” which is feeling a greater pinch this year from the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System contribution.
A difficult decision
“I’ve thought a lot about this. I’ve struggled over it a bit,” Keister said, given the many letters and comments directors received from parents who said the measure will disrupt everything from workday travel to leaving children at home alone.
While the savings will affect families, “It’s difficult at this time to let $155,000 lay” on the table, Keister said.
Some parents are concerned the later start time for younger students would leave those children at home alone waiting for the bus, while parents must leave for work and older siblings must catch their own buses.
It also disrupts arrangements of older siblings riding the same bus as younger siblings for parents’ peace of mind.
These were among reasons behind dissenting votes from Directors Tom Hosterman and Wendy McClintock. Hosterman said he thinks the new setup will conflict with parents’ work schedules and that younger children will be home alone until buses arrive.
McClintock said her reasons were more personal, but she does like the potential savings.
Lichtel said in studying school enrollment and demographics, about 8 percent of school district families have children in both age groups, affecting about 66 younger students.
Program may link siblings
To this end, the district will offer a “child supervision program” at the elementary school, giving about an hour of supervised pre-class care to students so they still may ride the bus with their older siblings.
That program would cost about $17,200 to operate, but “it’s a drop in the bucket compared to $155,000 in savings,” Lichtel said.
There were no public comments made at Tuesday night’s meeting.