Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Surprise And A New School Of Thought

I received an email yesterday from a recent reader informing me that this blog had been included as an entry on one of their blog lists. The link that was supplied indicated that I was one of 40 international bloggers writing about living in the suburbs and a quick scan of the list revealed some blogs from which I have tried to take my inspiration. I was really quite flattered. I quickly passed on the good news to Mrs. Sweeper since I was feeling real good about myself.

Then, I spent a great deal of time last night reading most of the other links and I am not so sure that this is a good thing. To be sure, they do have a balance of positions. Everything from the rabid “we have to move to the suburbs” to the “man are they going to be sorry someday” type of blog post from around the world. From those selling the myths of suburbia by retelling the myths of downtown to those who claim to see the despair of massive decaying home tracts. I think that they may have done a Google search on the word “suburb” and took a random sample of them all.

Oh well, exposure is exposure. I will take the good with the bad.

One of their links did cause me to contemplate the continued, less than cost effective, manner in which we use our schools. Take for example, the use of buses to get our students to and from school. Can it or should it be done a better way?

The first thought was to find out which portion of the annual school budget is used for transporting students and is it required. Finding the Fayette County Schools annual budget online is not an easy task and even then it would be an old one, so I took another tack. I looked at their fast facts.

They have 250 buses on the road daily, burning an estimated 2,200 gallon of fuel, to haul an estimated 34,000 students to 50 separate locations (and back) and covering approximately 15,000 miles. That is in a day.

Their start of school year enrollment is stated as 36,900 so that means that an astounding 92.1% of all enrolled students ride the bus. Daily. That makes 7.9% who walk or are driven by parents.

Why is it then, that there is always a traffic nightmare when passing any and every one of the 50 individual schools, morning and afternoon. The number of parent driven autos dropping off and then picking up the non-bus riding students is impressive. It also makes it difficult on those others of us trying to get to work on time.

I suppose that the 34,000 number could be the total daily rides and not students and that would cut the amount of students carried to about 17,000. That results in 46% who ride the bus daily and 54% who arrive some other way. Now we are talking a more reasonable figure.

But, do we need to pick up and deliver students to school when their parents clearly demonstrate that they for the most part are willing to do it? Our state law says that a public education needs to be provided but I know of no requirement to provide for transportation to and from said education. Have you seen the long lines of idling autos lined up in front of and looping around most of the schools in the hour before dismissal time? The environment would benefit greatly if all these carbon belching vehicles could be held to a minimum. Would it not make sense to route at least some of the existing public transit services to the schools and have a portion of the trip accomplished that way?

The development patterns of the past 80 years, and particularly the last 40, have contributed more to the time and distance needed to provide the services like school buses and public transit than they have in the rest of recorded history. We seem to be working at crossed purposes when we build in a lack of connectivity and demand that a service, supposedly delivered as a courtesy, be extended through a convoluted, circuitous path and expect our streets to remain tranquil and serene. Good luck with that.

I guess, my whole point here is that with the school district spending over $11,500 per student and a great deal of that in transportation costs how much more effective could they be by spending that money on class room work instead? The cost of fuel will continue to rise and the distances could get longer, so now is the time to consider/plan for a viable alternative and all options should be on the table. What is the sense of burning 2,200 gallons of fuel a day for 46% of he students and the parents burning probably half again as much for a remaining 35-40% while being taxed for both the schools and Lextran.

As an aside (and final thought), this would also add some stability to the school calendar since the calling of school for snow would depend on the parents decision of whether their child attends in inclement weather or not. Classes will be held, it is up to you to get your child there.


herrVebah said...

"But, do we need to pick up and deliver students to school when their parents clearly demonstrate that they for the most part are willing to do it? Our state law says that a public education needs to be provided but I know of no requirement to provide for transportation to and from said education."

Be careful there. Transportation is a fundamental part of provision of and access to government services, and we would all do better to recognize this.

I don't know the specifics of Kentucky's education law, but I do know that the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that Medicaid's mission to "provide" health care means also providing transportation to covered health care appointments even if they are non-emergency. See Sikand v. Wilson Coker.

The very same argument could be very easily applied to provision of public education -- and probably has been somewhere in the US, I'm just not familiar with it.

This is not to say that there aren't inefficiencies in the school bus system, I think you're definitely right that there are, but simply that we can't be so quick to eliminate the school buses altogether.

I'd love to see an arrangement under which LexTran provided some level of morning and afternoon service to and from schools, as a way to reduce costs for FCPS but also to increase the level of service on LexTran routes. The problem is that school bus routes run highly circuitous routes that make even LexTran's most inefficient routes look fast. I doubt if LexTran could operationally swing some of the routes that go deep into Lexington's suburban neighborhoods.

Streetsweeper said...

herrVebah, Back in the day, when I attended the Lexington City Schools, there was no busing of any kind. And I do mean even athletic events and other scholastic competitions. Kids who lived in the city made their way to school without the district's help, either by parents, walking or the city transit system. It was only after the systems merged (a few years before the governments) that I rode a school bus to the State Sweet Sixteen and a football semi-final game. The only two times that I rode a school bus as a student.

The middle and high schools have been located along collector streets but are not directly served by Lextran, I would suppose due to the impediment that the mentioned traffic jams cause on the headway times. In these days of the coming energy tightening, we all need to cooperate a bit more.