Solanco School District will pay families not to bus - LancasterOnline: News

Solanco School District will pay families not to bus

Called the Shared Savings Program, it would pay families $500 if they transport their children to school or drop them off at a 'hub'

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Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:41 pm | Updated: 2:51 pm, Tue Sep 24, 2013.

Solanco School District spends $3 million to transport about 4,200 students each year - $1 million more than what School District of Lancaster, with almost 11,000 pupils, spends.

While most SDL students walk to school, almost none of them hoof it in Solanco, which by a wide margin is the largest district in Lancaster County, comprising nearly 182 square miles.

Because of the district's massive size, Solanco buses travel 6,500 miles and make 3,300 stops every day.

To reduce the expense of all those trips, the district has proposed a novel "payment in lieu of busing" program.

Called the Shared Savings Program, it would pay families $500 next year if they agree to transport their children to school or drop them off at a centralized "hub," where a Solanco bus would pick them up for a much shorter, and less costly, trip to school.

The district also would pay families a $200 "signing bonus" if they register for the program by July 13.

If enough families participate, Solanco could cut its transportation costs by as much as $500,000 a year, said Tim Shrom, the district's business manager.

The program, which was approved this week by the school board, is the first of its kind in Lancaster County.

Other districts have negotiated individual agreements with parents to free school systems of busing requirements, but this is the first such program to be offered districtwide.

It comes less than a year after Solanco offered another unusual financial incentive to families in a bid to cut district expenses.

The district this fall began offering "educational expense grants" of up to $1,000 to families of students who transfer from an outside cyberschool to Solanco's Virtual Academy.

The grant program, which reimburses families for educational materials and equipment, was expected to save Solanco thousands of dollars in cyberschool tuition costs.

The Shared Savings Program will be offered initially only to families of children attending 15 nonpublic schools located outside Solanco's borders.

Under state law, public schools that bus their students also must bus pupils who live in the district but attend private schools within 10 miles of district borders.

Solanco is targeting students attending these schools, Shrom said, because they tend to travel farther, and cost the district more, than their public school peers.

While only 4 percent of students in Solanco attend private schools, they account for 12 percent of the district's total transportation costs, he said. Solanco spends about $3,000 to $3,500 each year per family on nonpublic school transportation.

The Shared Savings program can be a "win-win" for families by giving them a financial boost of up to $700, while reducing travel times for students, Shrom said.

Because of the large number of stops and transfers on many private school bus routes, some pupils spend up to 90 minutes riding the bus each morning and afternoon. By eliminating stops and utilizing hubs, travel times could be cut by as much as 30 minutes each way, Shrom said.

Solanco would establish four to seven hubs in three sections of the district. Hub locations would depend on how many families participate, where they live and what schools their children attend, Shrom said.

The hubs would likely be established at Solanco schools or commercial properties that have ample parking. The sites would have to be well-lit and include a covered bus shelter provided by the district or a sponsoring business, organization or school.

Participating parents would have to sign a contract with the district agreeing to provide transportation for their children to and from the hubs or school.

Shrom could not estimate how many of the 106 targeted private school families would have to sign up for the Shared Savings plan to work. That will depend on whether Solanco can eliminate buses or shorten enough routes to offset the cost of payments to families.

Currently, nine buses serve the targeted families. For every bus it eliminated, the district would save about $186,000 each year, Shrom said.

Families that choose not to participate would continue to receive their current busing services - with two caveats.

Bus stops may change as a result of route adjustments, and travel times to and from school may decrease because of the consolidation of bus stops. Shrom said bus ride times would not increase for students who do not participate.

Solanco officials are currently meeting with representatives of the 15 schools affected by the proposal. In April and May, they'll meet with residents in three regions of the district - Lancaster, Northeast and Oxford - to explain the program.

Once the number of participants is known, the school board will need to approve final implementation and any bus schedule changes.

Correspondent Roxanne Todd contributed to this story.

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