Riding the school bus could come with a cost

Would you pay for your child to ride the school bus everyday?

Would you pay for your child to ride the school bus everyday? That could become your only option if Illinois school districts decide to charge parents a bus fee due to an enormous slash in transportation funding.

Education officials are considering a proposal to let schools stop offering free bus service. They could either get rid of the buses or charge for carrying students each day. The change would be part of a new system for distributing state money for student transportation.

The State Board of Education could introduce legislation this week. The Illinois Association of School Boards says transportation spending has been slashed 42 percent since 2010. That has left school districts struggling to pay for bus service.

That means, schools have taken money from their education funds to provide for transportation. Quincy Public School Superintendent Lonny Lemon says these cuts would be detrimental to both his district and neighboring counties.

"We all greatly fear that kids just won't come to school because the parents can't get them there. And certainly, number one, that affects academics, but it also affects economics, because right now, the formula is based on attendance. So right now, there's more questions than answers," Lemon said.

Meanwhile, bus drivers within the Quincy transportation system say these cuts would come at a time when the district is already suffering from a shortage in bus drivers.

Terri Morris spends most of her mornings and afternoons driving both elementary and high school students to and from school. She's also part of the office staff at the Quincy Bus Barn. That's not unusual for many of the office staff, and even the mechanics, who take on multiple jobs to cope with the driver shortage.

"I think our entire community benefits when you have great bus drivers who care about what they do and how they do it. And I think we do have that. We just don't have enough of them. We need more," Morris said.

Barnes says out of Quincy's 120 school bus drivers, only 11 are full time. He says he needs about 20 more drivers to balance out the full schedule. Due to the shortage, many kids will get on a different bus some days not knowing the driver. Morris says extra drivers would provide more consistency.

"I think it would absolutely help the children. I think it also helps parents. They also get to know the bus driver and can have a conversation with them, like by the way, my child does this or they need help with this. Whatever makes people feel comfortable about letting your students on the bus, I want them to feel that way. Because if it was my child, I'd want to know the bus driver," Morris said.

The driver shortage and budget cuts have caused the district to eliminate routes, thus packing in the remaining buses with even more children. Morris says it's easy to become attached to the children, and especially hard when her routes get switched.

"It was a transition. In fact, I cried," Morris said. "The lady in the office said this to me and she was right, 'you'll fall in love with the new set of kids.' She's right, I did."

What do you think about the potential cuts to the school bus system? Weigh in on this issue either below or on our Facebook page here.

If you'd like more information on the Quincy bus driver positions, call the Quincy Bus Barn at (217) 224-5910, located at N. 20th Street in Quincy.

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