Change In Transportation Funding Could Benefit Rural Arkansas Schools

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MULBERRY (KFSM) -- Larger Arkansas schools have a budget of their own for transportation, but in smaller districts that money has to come out of the total budget to make up for lack of funding.

"A school bus is more than 10 percent of our operating budget per year," Mulberry-Pleasant View Superintendent Lonnie Myers said. "So you can imagine taking 10 percent of your budget out with one purchase and then being concerned about catastrophes or downturns of some kind, fuel costs going up and then, all of a sudden, finding yourself with a real issue."

A proposed change to the way the way funding is allocated would mean districts would get money based on the cost of transporting students instead of enrollment numbers, which would give smaller districts, which in many cases travel further to pick up students on mostly unpaved roads, the opportunity to get in on state funds they otherwise cannot get.

"Mulberry-Pleasant View has about 125 square miles, which most rural school districts have a larger square mileage than maybe urban districts," Myers said. "We do have to run buses over a significant amount of mileage, as well as over roads that aren't sometimes the best; dirt roads, gravel roads, that sort of thing."

Nearly 260 students ride the bus every day in the Mulberry-Pleasant View district, which is more than 75 percent of their student body.

"We've always said that riding a bus is a privilege, but it's certainly become so expected it would be a great hardship on our parents if we were not able to provide transportation," Myers said.

Parents agree and said they depend on the school's transportation for their kids.

"It would be very important because some parents work and they don't have the opportunity to drop them off at school," parent Shayla Roe said. "It's a good thing to have them here, so they can get on the bus and go, and having the opportunity to go to school because some children might not go to school if they didn't have the opportunity to ride the bus."

In addition to transportation, the amount of state funding that schools receive for their overall budgets is still up for debate in Little Rock. The final report is due by Nov. 1. The legislature will vote on that report in January.