Cuts to School Transportation Funding Remain

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By Christen Drew
By Jared Roberts

FRANKLIN COUNTY-- Bad news for rural school districts. The nearly $90-million cuts Governor Quinn made to transportation funding will stay for now, after lawmakers failed to veto the measure.

That means schools may have to take money from their education budget to pay for their busses. Even though their bus funding was cut by 40%, schools are required to provide transportation to any student that lives more than a mile-and-a-half away from the school. Bussing students back and forth to school is costly, especially in rural southern Illinois, where districts cover many square miles.

"The name of our high school is Benton Consolidated High School. Consolidated means we take in a lot of different school districts," says Benton High School Superintendent Kelly Stewart.

According to Stewart, last year Benton spent $300-thousand running their busses. After all, their district takes up half of Franklin County and besides Benton, includes Eastern, Northern and Ewing townships.

"We go over to about the Big Muddy River to the West; to the East we go up to Macedonia area which is Hamilton County area; to the North we're going to go up the the edge of Jefferson County," says Stewart.

The school has already combined routes using mapping software; saving miles, but creating longer bus rides for students. Fields trips have also been cut back.

"You get one field trip a year per teacher and it's got to be 50 miles or less and that's simply because of funding," she says.

But losing 40% of their transportation funding will no doubt change things even further. Stewart has thought about pick-up points around the district or developing a county-wide bus system, but really thinks there's only one solution.

"My biggest frustration is that I'm going to have to take dollars that I would spend on instruction, which is what we're all about, on transportation, that I'm mandated to provide," she says.
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