Despite education being at the center of the second legislative session in Olympia, many rural school districts said Monday their concerns over school bus fuel funding are being ignored.
“The way it is here,” said Eatonville School Board President Bob Homan. “We’re spending $200,000 on gas instead of on these programs.”
Eatonville has 21 buses to cover one of the largest districts in Washington. Its drivers cover 230,000 miles-per-year and according to the district’s transportation director Clay Jamerson; the longest route is nearly ninety minutes long.
“With fuel costs this day and age, yeah, it gets a little pricey sometimes,” said Jamerson.
Eatonville recently approved a new fuel contract for next year. In 2012, it spent just over $1 million on gas, a bidding process complicated by the fact there’s only one legitimate commercial fuel provider in town. In fact, the board rejected bids from that company twice last year.
OSPI documents show there is a $200,000 gap between what the state funds for transportation and what his district needs. Before this school year, Washington changed its formula on how to calculate fuel costs from “miles traveled” to “seats filled.”
“We would have to increase our routes to two hours to get a full bus to really get the maximum dollar from the state,” Homan commented.
Despite the concerns of smaller schools, lawmakers point out many districts, including Eatonville, actually received more state fuel funding this year than last. Rep. Cathy Dahlquist (R-Eatonville) said Monday the state focuses more on “expected cost” rather than “miles covered,” a model lawmakers believe is more efficient. While she agrees districts should get more funding for this, there was “not a lot of talk on it” during the legislative sessions.
Homan thinks there should be.
“That money could’ve been kept to retain programs, teach more kids and keep class sizes down,” he suggested.“That’s where the rub is.”
Rep. Dahlquist said the transportation funding formula will be analyzed by state lawmakers next year.