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District 88 transportation costs underfunded

January 23, 2011
By Kremena Spengler, Staff Writer

NEW ULM - District 88's transportation costs are underfunded, according to a report published last fall by Minnesota 2020, a self-described "progressive think tank."

New Ulm received a total of $919,781.36 from the state in 2009 to cover transportation costs, according to the report.

Its transportation costs amounted to $967,463.87, indicating that state funding fell $47,682.51 short of covering costs.

The report put the District 88 busing cost per mile at $2.48. The revenue per mile was $2.35; or, the district was $0.12 per mile short.

The district received $379.72 in transportation revenue per student. It paid out $399.40 per student; a shortfall of $19.68.

Ranked on the basis of students bused (rather than those attending school), the revenue was $661.71. The transportation cost was $696.02; a shortfall of $34.30.

These calculations are based, roughly, on student enrollment of 2,422 and 1,390 students being bused over 390,768 miles.

The numbers listed in the report are based on data collected by the state Department of Education. The terminology in the report has been intentionally simplified here.

The numbers suggest that District 88 is among the districts in the state that are subsidizing transportation out of their general operating revenue, indicates the report.

Some districts - as a rule smaller, more isolated rural ones - are even more underfunded than New Ulm.

Others - which tend to be larger and more urban - are over-funded.

The report attributes this inequity to the complexity and inadequacy of formulas guiding transportation funding.

The state calculates transportation revenue based on a weighted number of students attending the school district, not the number of students who use transportation, or the number of miles driven.

This funding mechanism tends to leave schools in densely populated areas with a transportation surplus, and those in more sparse areas with a transportation deficit.

When the transportation deficit is ranked on a per-student basis, small school districts lose the most per student for transportation.

Urban and large districts tend to wind up with extra transportation funding because more students can walk to school and bus routes are compact.

Such schools typically use the additional revenue to plug other budget holes.

In an effort to equalize funding for rural districts, the state devised an index to factor in distance and fuel costs. But even the smallest, densest urban districts qualify for some of this aid.

Underfunding forces districts to remove money from other educational needs to fund transportation.

The report lists ways districts use to save on transportation: adopting four-day school weeks; cutting routes, which lengthens time spent on buses; adding a fee, or outright eliminating, transportation for afterschool activities; and increasing the distance from school within which a district offers busing.

The report argues in favor of addressing formula inequities - as well as what its authors see as an even more basic flaw: blurring funding boundaries by mixing transportation funding in with general state aid.

(By all three indicators examined in the report - spending per student attending school, per student riding a bus, and per mile - District 88 costs relatively average, shows a Journal review.)



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