The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Wednesday started collecting a list of potential ways it could save money in transporting children to school.
School Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith is leading up the effort.
She said Wednesday’s meeting aimed to determine the issues that a still-to-be-named transportation task force, made of five board members and six community members, will tackle.
“We’re here to dispel myths and put out the information out there,” she said.
The close inspection of transportation was sparked by controversy of cost-saving but an unpopular proposal to end direct bus routes for children in gifted and talented program on low ridership buses - approved in April but being reviewed on Monday.
Another cost-saving but unpopular proposal to have some parochial schools start 30 minutes later was shelved after opposition by the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge and some School Board members.
The former is expected to save $850,000 and the latter would save $2 million.
Supporters of those services suggested finding alternative ways to make school bus transportation more efficient and less costly.
Many of those individuals were present at Wednesday’s meeting, including Catholic Schools Superintendent Melanie Verges.
East Baton Rouge Parish school system Transportation Director Bill Talmadge said the problem is simple:
“There is only one significant way to save money: more children on fewer buses,” he said.
Every bus eliminated from the road saves the school system about $54,000 in operating costs, he said.
Superintendent John Dilworth said the school system has approved spending cuts of more than $50 million in the past year and will have to find another $35 to $40 million in cuts a year from now.
“We’re open to any idea to how to do this better,” he said.
A few of the cost-saving suggestions the task force will examine:
• Redraw attendance zones and distribute specialized programs more evenly throughout the parish.
• Persuade parents on low ridership routes to go to nearby pickup points at public parks.
• Have magnet programs start later, perhaps 45 minutes, after other schools.
• Create more transfer points.
• Sell advertising on school buses.
• Have an independent audit of school transportation department.
• Give parents on low ridership buses vouchers to pay for alternative transportation to school.
• Improve neighborhood schools so fewer parents elect to go to specialized programs.