Photo courtesy of Hoover City Schools
A new system that would charge Hoover City Schools students to ride city school buses in the 2014-2015 academic year is currently under discussion.
Superintendent Andy Craig revealed this fee-based proposal in an April 17 memorandum to the Board of Education. The system is intended to “eliminate or minimize the unfunded cost burden of providing student transportation.”
The Hoover City Schools Board of Education approved the fee structure during its April 17 regular meeting, but its implementation still requires approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. District Court.
The following day, State Superintendent Tommy Bice issued a statement questioning the legality of the decision against Section 16-11-26 of the Alabama Code that says no fee can be collected from children in the first six grades whose school is supported by public taxation. The next week, Bice met with Hoover Superintendent Andy Craig to discuss the situation.
After this meeting, Bice released a statement addressing concerns about statewide implications about the fee-for-service proposal, which he said did not rule out the system as an option but do required it “be vetted fully through all legal avenues.” The system, he said, would imply funding for transportation is a local responsibility versus one to be funded by the state and could create costly long-term legal issues for the system.
Hoover City Schools’ financial challenges have been at the forefront of local discussions since 2013, when the Board revealed its fiscal year 2014 budget. The budget projected $150 million in revenue and $167 in expenditures.
One of the board’s first proposals to reduce deficit operation was to remove the bus system entirely. This received strong opposition from parents. In response, the Board of Education has worked with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division and the Birmingham office of the U.S. Attorney General to find a solution that will ease the city’s financial restrictions without placing an excessive burden on parents or leaving the city open to lawsuits.
Craig announced in his memorandum that the Department of Justice “would not likely oppose implementation” of the fee-based system. The system would alter rates depending on families’ economic situation and number of students needing transportation.
The basic monthly rate would be $40.75 for a single rider, $28.53 per student for two riders and $21.40 per student for three or more riders. Students who qualify for the National School Lunch Program will pay lower monthly rates.
In the statement release in April 23, Bice also confirmed that he considers Hoover City Schools’ financial challenges to be the result of not financial mismanagement but an increase in student population coupled with a decrease in state budget allocation and local revenue sources, and he encouraged community unity in seeking a long term solution.
“We have committed to work collaboratively with Mr. Craig and the Hoover City Board of Education in assessing multiple, viable solutions to its financial challenge, and our working relationship is solid,” Bice said in the statement.
The U.S. District Court would have to approve the fee system before it goes into effect as well. If it is approved, the Board of Education and the Department of Justice will be monitoring the effects of the fee-based system and could make further adjustments.