Questions and Answers with Dr. Dennis Womack, Assistant Superintendent for Operations
1. Why did Lovejoy ISD reduce bus routes?
Because the State of Texas does not consider school bus service a requirement for children to receive an education, the state does not provide schools with enough funding to cover the cost of providing transportation. Districts must subsidize the cost of providing bus services from classroom funds. Due to continual educational funding cuts from the state and to adopt a balanced district operating budget that protects the instructional quality and the experience for students in the classroom, LISD was faced with the difficult decision to significantly reduce regular education transportation services for the 2020- 2021 school year. These changes have no impact on Special Education Transportation.
2. But, doesn’t Lovejoy ISD receive state funding for transportation services?
Historically, Lovejoy ISD has not been eligible for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) state transportation allotment because the state categorized Lovejoy as a property wealthy school district. However, the law was recently changed to allow District’s like Lovejoy to apply for some state transportation funding moving forward. Unfortunately, TEA’s defined allotment calculation will only fund a small fraction of the cost to provide the service.
3. If the School Board had a local policy that defined hazardous traffic conditions, then would Lovejoy ISD be funded for bus services within two-miles of the campuses for these hazardous areas?
Lovejoy ISD has not adopted a local policy as defined by TEA’s School Transportation Allotment Handbook for the hazardous traffic condition areas that apply to the district and exist within two miles of its campuses. In the past, Lovejoy ISD has not been eligible for the state’s transportation allotment nor eligible for hazardous traffic area funding. Therefore, a local policy to define the hazardous traffic conditions had not been warranted.
Secondly, with the change in law, Lovejoy could be eligible for hazardous traffic conditions funding up to 10 percent of the two or more mile only service. However, the dilemma is declaring the areas within two miles as hazardous, but not being able to afford to provide bus services even with the inadequate allotment.
For example, if the Board were to adopt a local policy to identify the specific hazardous traffic areas, approximately 95 percent or more of the school district would be included in the hazardous criteria. As defined under Section 10.5 of the TEA School Transportation Allotment Handbook, a school District’s hazardous traffic areas is limited for allotment purposes to 10 percent of the District’s two or more mile only service. So, whose traffic hazards are the worst? With one exception, the roads, collectors and tributary streets within two miles of each campus have no sidewalks paralleling them; they lack pedestrian facilities, signage, striping, and signalization; and they are heavily traveled during school arrival and dismissal times.
In short, a local hazardous traffic policy would in essence entitle 95 percent or more of those residing within two miles of their campus eligible for transportation services, when state funding is limited to 10 percent of the two or more mile only service. As previously stated, the District is not financially able to continue funding transportation services for all students.
Lastly, if a school District adopts a local hazardous traffic policy to entitle those residing within two miles of their campus eligible for transportation services, school Districts are not permitted to also charge a fee to offset the cost of providing the service. Section 14 of the TEA School Transportation Allotment Handbook explains, Districts my charge a fee to those ineligible for transportation allotment purposes. Therefore, if the District declares 95 percent of the areas within two miles of each campus as hazardous, the District is also declaring those residences as eligible for transportation services. By doing so, the District would not be able to offer a fee for service option for those families that desperately need help with transportation.
4. Doesn’t the TEA’s School Transportation Allotment Handbook define how Districts should determine those who reside two or more miles from campus?
Yes. Section 6 of the TEA School Transportation Allotment Handbook describes the procedures a District must follow in determining the ridership mileage to be reported to the state. In Section 6.1, TEA defines the method for allotment purposes to be used to determine if a student resides two or more miles from his or her campus. Section 6.1 should not be mistaken for a District’s eligibility criteria for whom may receive transportation service. Distance measurements for TEA allotment purposes and measurements for District eligibility purposes do not have to match. As discussed prior, Lovejoy has historically considered all students eligible for transportation services even though not all students would have been eligible for TEA’s allotment.
5. Why did LISD use a straight line from the campus to a specific property line instead of measuring distances based on the "shortest route that can be traveled on publicly maintained roads"?
The straight-line measurement from each school’s property line is the measurement method used to differentiate between eligible or ineligible areas for regular education transportation service. The measurement method used is not intended to mirror the walking or driving path to or from school or for reporting data to TEA for allotment purposes. TEA attempts to make this clear in Section 6.1 by stating,
However, your district’s policy on eligibility for transportation may be more restrictive. For example, the policy may require that such a student live farther from campus, or the policy may establish a two-mile radius or a longer walking distance from the student’s campus (p. 29).
6. Why was an intersection of a road or the campus property line used to determine the "2 mile radius" instead of a prominent landmark?
For District transportation eligibility purposes (which is not the same as TEA’s allotment purposes), Elementary and Intermediate schools will use the campus’ nearest property line and the student's nearest legal residence property line. For Willow Springs Middle School and Lovejoy High School the starting point will be from the intersection zone between Willow Springs Middle School and Lovejoy High School along the District’s boundary on Ingram Road. In order for families to verify the straight-line eligibility distances for Willow Springs and Lovejoy High School, the District provided the exact starting points used for the radius measurements.
7. If LISD could get funding for students that reside 2 or more miles from their campus, why did LISD decide to use 2.26 miles for elementary schools and 3.01 miles for Intermediate, Middle and High School?
Lovejoy had to significantly reduce the total number of bus routes in order to cut approximately two-thirds of the cost of regular education transportation to balance the district’s 2020-2021 operating budget. These straight-line radius values effectively reduce the total number of regular education transportation routes the district can afford to provide, and efficiently balances the projected number of riders between elementary/intermediate school students with middle/high school students. Instead of completely eliminating regular education transportation service for all students, the reduced number of dedicated routes will allow the district to offer ineligible families hardship exceptions.