May 23 2011 07:35 PM

Waving goodbye to the yellow school bus


Hey-ho, readers. I have a public-service announcement for you: Don't have children. Too late, you say? Well, this piece is for you, too.

The reason I say this is not because kids suddenly need to talk to you every time you pick up the telephone. It's not because they use their favorite Hannah Montana rubber stamp to decorate the floor, baseboards and west-facing wall of your newly painted dining room. It's not because you have to hold post-potty depositions after every single mother@!&#*^!! bathroom trip—complete with hand sniffing and counterarguments—about whether hand washing actually occurred. No, this stuff isn't why I implore you to put on a rubber.

I beg because trying to get a decent public education for your child in this city is like walking up a down escalator. On crutches. While simultaneously patting your head and rubbing your tummy. It's way more fun to be a childless hipster. Even a tragic, brooding one.

The reasons San Diego children are completely screwed are myriad. But the standard We're broke! excuse has brought us to the latest emotional, ideological, political and un-thought-out decision to do away with all but federally mandated busing.

For those who don't speak educationese, that means the roughly 6,000 students in San Diego Unified who aren't designated as special-education kids or who aren't bused out of failing schools under No Child Left Behind—and further encouraged by the district's very own School Choice program, mind you—will no longer have access to transportation. School-board members Scott barnett, Shelia Jackson and John Lee Evans like to paint it as a return to neighborhood schools. I like to call it re-segregation.

Currently, parents who can afford it are asked to pay to use school buses. I'd advocate for increasing the fee before puncturing all the bus tires, but that's because I care. The school district, though, has been incompetent when it comes to tracking current payments, with approximately half of the 5,000 paying families delinquent. (Oh, bureaucracy. You're so adorable I want to squeeze your chubby cheeks!) Of course, it's difficult to track bus ridership in the day and age of children swiping pre-paid ID cards each day to eat cafeteria lunch.

According to an analysis by the district's very own Tiger Team on Transportation, it costs $32,000 annually to operate a bus. This is whether one child is on a bus (say, a federally mandated rider) or 40 children are (say, all the kids who live in the general area and could get on that bus but won't be allowed to). Here's the thing: The school board would sorta need to know who's riding the bus in order to know how much money could be saved by eliminating bus routes. Can I have a witness?

Anti-buser Scott barnett says that eliminating busing will save teacher jobs and projects an overall savings of $3.1 million—amid an estimated $140-million deficit. Drop, meet bucket. (Things will change a bit with the governor's new budget, but unless Evans is open to reason, it's unlikely busing will remain untouched.)

Interestingly (which is probably why the school board is uninterested), the Tiger Team projects that 36 schools will be below capacity if busing goes the way of the dodo bird, and at least 11 will be over capacity.

Mission Bay High School could see enrollment nosedive as much as 75 percent if its bussed students don't find another way to get there. Teachers will be laid off, and then the school will be—what? Operated at 25-percent capacity? Or will it be shut down and remaining students sent—where? And if the latter, will they be—bussed? Or will barnett arrange for them to have taxi vouchers? He seriously proposed taxi vouchers as an answer to busing. That's out-of-the-box thinking. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of town where the real beating will take place, Lincoln High School—with 2,100 to 2,700 students enrolled in any given year—will absorb as many as 1,120 students, according to the Tiger Team. Jackson pshawed that as a “worst-case scenario” and defended her vote to eliminate busing by saying that there's no way to know what the actual number of new enrollees would be. I love the let's-just-hop-in-the-car-and-see-where-we-end-up plan of action. It's an especially effective policy when you start on empty.

I ask Jackson and Co.: What already-large high school can absorb another thousand students? Or even 500? Or whatever made-up number you'd like to propose? Will you accommodate this mystical influx by building more buildings? I wonder if the school board has wondered whether that will cost more than $3.1 million.

This is the third decision in a series aimed in a not-so-veiled way at closing down magnet schools. With the redistribution of magnet funds and the phasing out of Title 1 funds, my daughter's school will face a reduction of up to 47 percent of the student body if busing is axed. Taxis are likely out as an option since I don't know one parent who's going to put a first grader in an Orange Cab, or on a city bus, for that matter. Will my school operate at half-capacity? And how many teachers will be let go? Yup. I see the savings now.

Readers: On the morning of May 10, our school board met to discuss this issue in an air-conditioned room. The National Weather Service recorded the high temperature in San Diego as 68 degrees that day. And they say busing is a waste of money.

Any estimation of savings from eliminating busing is magical thinking. Educating our city's kids with nincompoops as sitting board members is the sad, sad reality.    


Don't write to me, silly! Write to the school board and urge them to take busing off the table. Then write to and


See all events on Wednesday, Oct 26