School buses. Who needs ’em?
Homeowners in the Cypress-Fairbanks school district are able to keep their special tax break this year, but now thousands of students are left without school bus rides.
To make a dent in a $14 million deficit, Cy-Fair will no longer provide bus service to most students who live within two miles of their school. The district also is cutting late bus service, which took home students who stay after school for sports, tutoring, band, detention or club meetings.
“It’s putting a lot of people in a bind,” said Cy-Fair parent Angela LeBlanc. She and her husband both have work schedules that prevent them from driving their second-grade daughter to school, which starts at 8:45 a.m.
Cy-Fair Superintendent David Anthony announced the cuts in busing in late July after the school board, under heavy lobbying by homeowners and lawmakers, rejected his proposal to revoke or reduce the district’s 20 percent optional homestead exemption. Anthony said removing the tax discount would have netted the district an extra $45 million this year.
The transportation cuts will make up a small portion of the difference. Cy-Fair spokeswoman Kelli Durham said stopping the two-mile bus runs will save about $2 million. The move will affect some 11,000 children, or 11 percent of the student body.
The district had previously cut 75 jobs to make up part of the deficit. I’m thinking the district’s “great reputation” that Superintendent Anthony was worried about will also take a hit as a result of this.
The Cy-Fair school board did not sign off specifically on the bus changes but voted in late June to give Anthony permission to cut $14.2 million from the budget.
Cy-Fair school board member Larry Youngblood said he supports the cuts in busing, rather than raising taxes. He recalled a call from a taxpayer who said: “Do whatever you have to do. We’ll get used to it. But don’t raise my taxes.”
You have to admire the sense of entitlement, if not the priorities, of that caller. Clearly, he or she had en effect on Youngblood’s actions. Of course, if the only people calling in were like this person, and not those who were going to be adversely affected by this decision, it’s easy to see why it had that effect. How many other school districts that give that extra exemption will see the same dynamic?
Teachers also are worried about the cuts in busing, said Frances Smith, who is president of the Texas State Teachers Association in Cy-Fair. She said she’s not sure how students who don’t have rides or can’t afford cars will be able to make up tests after school or participate in clubs.
“The students that don’t have rides, they’re going to be at a disadvantage,” she said.
I hope somebody keeps track of all the Cy-Fairs out there and their test scores. Maybe if their students’ performance declines noticeably, the residents will demand a reassessment of this decision. Or maybe it’ll turn out that the reason people moved to places like Cy-Fair was really the property taxes, and not the quality of the schools. At least we’ll finally know for sure.