Photo courtesy of Hoover City Schools
A large number of Hoover heads-of-household have hope again.
The Hoover City Board of Education will hold a public forum Aug. 8 to gain input and answer questions about its recent decision to discontinue general student bus service beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. The forum will take place at 7 p.m. at the Spain Park High School theatre.
“This is just what we’ve been hoping for,” Hoover parent Felicia Brewer said when she learned of the meeting.
The Board voted 4-1 in July to discontinue general student bus service in order to cut costs, leaving transport of regular school bus riders to parents. While busing for special needs students and special events would continue, the transportation cut would save the system about $2.5 million a year. Children affected would make up an average of about 46 percent or 6,300 of the system enrollment of about 13,700 students.
According to school officials, the system has seen a decline in revenues, including local, state and federal funds, coupled with an increase in student enrollment.
Since 2008, system revenues on a per-student basis have decreased from $13,715 to $11,356 for the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2012, school officials said. The decline represents a cumulative operating revenue loss for the same four-year period of $96.8 million, with revenues for fiscal year 2012 down $31.6 million compared to the fiscal year 2008 level.
According to Hoover City Schools Superintendent Andy Craig, the school board’s 2012-2013 revenues are $149 million and expenditures are $166 million. The downward trend must be addressed, Craig said.
“Going forward, the fundamental question is do we guarantee transportation to all students outside of two miles and absorb the unfunded costs while dismantling our investment in core teaching and learning?” Craig said. “I think the answer is ‘No.’”
Brewer, a resident of Lake Crest subdivision, said she would like the board to consider alternatives to the transportation cut including changing the bus coverage area to lessen the cost and charging tuition to those who don’t pay property taxes.
“I am the first to say I appreciate the quality of education provided through the Hoover schools and want to save money for the classroom, but I also want the officials to look at alternatives, take suggestions seriously, and give good reasons why things will or won’t work,” she said.
Scott James, a resident of Huntington Park subdivision, will have two children in a Hoover elementary school this year and eventually four in three different Hoover schools.
James said halting the bus service would leave him and his wife “logistically at a loss on how it would work.” But he said he is now “very encouraged but not surprised” the board is seeking public input.
“I think our school board is a very reasonable crew. Given this decision is going to have such a significant impact on the families in our community, I think it’s a very good idea for the board to refrain from making a unilateral decision on behalf of us,” James said.
Hoover city School Board member Derrick Murphy, who cast the lone vote against the bus service cut, has a son at Hoover High School and daughter at Deer Valley Elementary. Murphy said his son “uses the bus sparingly” because of extensive involvement with extracurricular activities, and his daughter is transported via carpool and bus in the mornings.
Murphy said in light of declining revenues, it is the board’s responsibility to evaluate every aspect of the system to make sure education remains the number one priority.
“At the same time, I believe an issue with this great an impact deserves dialogue and discussion because the busing system is vital for our students that use the service,” Murphy said. “Being able to think about things, being patient about things is very important.”
Hoover City School Board member Earl Cooper said he speaks for himself and not the entire school board when saying there “seems to be some in the community who understand the system’s financial situation and strategic implications of that on the students’ classroom learning, and some who don’t.”
“To continue down this path of deficient spending – an unsustainable business model – has direct implications on the classroom that could happen very soon,” Cooper said. “This includes having to build an additional school or schools to be potentially occupied as early as 2016 should system enrollment continue at the rate it has over the last five years.”
Cooper said he also wants the public to understand that cutting bus service is only one of a few things the superintendent can propose to slow down deficient spending without cutting into classroom spending.
“Do I know how this will end up? No. And are there a lot of smart people in the community that will come forward with smart, creative ideas to help mitigate some of the concerns? Absolutely,” Cooper said. “All we can do is hear the people out, study and make the best decision for the students because that’s the charge of this board.”
HCS Public Hearing
Aug. 8, 7 p.m.
Spain Park High School