Atascadero has enough in reserves to continue school bus rides, some of them long

The Atascadero Unified School District deals with some lengthy home-to-school trips that may be affected later after the state cut all school transportation funding for the rest of this fiscal year.

Some students living in the remote California Valley must catch their bus as early as 5:30 each morning before traveling about 50 miles, with stops at various intervals, to arrive at Atascadero High School nearly two hours later.

Those continuing on to Santa Rosa Academic Academy in Atascadero must tack an extra 40 minutes onto that travel time. The students face an equally long commute home, arriving back at Carrisa Plains School as late as 5:10 p.m.

According to district staff, approximately 26 students live on the Carrizo Plain and in California Valley. Twenty-one students live in Creston, about 25 miles from Atascadero, and 32 students live in Pozo, 40 miles from Atascadero.

Despite statewide school transportation cuts, Atascadero Unified will not make any changes to its school transportation system this school year, said Jackie Martin, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services.

Atascadero Unified will lose $315,000 in school transportation funding, approximately $67 per students. “We have enough money in our reserves to cover that loss,” Martin said, noting that the loss is “significant.”

“We’re still running a program that’s above and beyond what the state was giving us,” she said.

In May 2011, the Atascadero Unified school board voted to cut and consolidate about half of the district’s home-to-school bus routes, a move that saved about $106,987. “That already helped going into this year,” Martin said, adding that “next year is going to be a challenge.”

Although Atascadero Unified has researched the possibility of charging parents and guardians for bus rides, as Paso Robles Public Schools and the Lucia Mar Unified School District currently do, the district decided against that option, Martin said. “It wouldn’t bring in revenue that we would need to run the program,” she explained.