rom coast to coast, in amounts ranging from thousands of dollars into the millions, school transportation directors are grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic’s latest haymaker: how

to come up with additional money to keep buses on the road, drivers behind the wheel and students and staff safe. Differing opinions exist about the challenges that the

current school year poses, with some saying their dis- tricts are largely unaffected and others facing immediate pressure. But there also appears to be an across-the-board expectation that things are going to get worse before they get better, as challenging budget conditions are likely to roll into 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years. Another one-two punch—the effect of COVID-19 and

widespread civil unrest on businesses and state tax bases— appears certain to prolong transportation department woes. “If things went back to normal tomorrow, there’s still

going to be a lag effect of the last six months, especially the last three months because a lot of small businesses have closed and those tax dollars are gone,” said Wayne Winters, the transportation director for Crittenden County Schools in Kentucky. “I can’t even wrap my mind around how many [businesses] that may be across the state.” For many districts, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the budget process. A recent School Transportation News survey indicates that one-quarter of responding transportation directors haven’t been able to determine just how much more funding they will need as they face the new environment. Winters is one of them. “I anticipated a lot of added expenses, and I under-

anticipated by about double,” Winters shared. “Cleaning supplies that I thought would last a week, paper towels and alcohol-based disinfectant, are lasting a day and a half. Masks that used to cost $3 a box for 10 now cost $20 a box, and we go through one box a week per bus, one a day for the driver and the monitor.” It doesn’t stop there, of course. Drivers and monitors are spending an extra hour a day wiping down buses, which has increased personnel costs. Even fuel costs are up as buses transport fewer students and make more runs, Win- ters pointed out. Richard Jimenez explained that Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District in Southern California, is attempting to prepare for future shortfalls by adding savings resulting from canceled classes earlier this year to its reserve fund. “We really want to build our reserve so that when

we do get into that deficit spending, we’re not in a bad place,” said Jimenez, who is the transportation director for the district. One factor that could add expenses, Jimenez suggest- ed, is the possibility that limiting seating capacities due

34 School Transportation News • OCTOBER 2020

to COVID-19 will force the district to contract out some routes. He said bond issues to cover transportation costs may be an option for metropolitan districts but aren’t likely to succeed in many smaller districts with limited resources. Instead, the latter districts, at least those in California, may more heavily rely on grants from its state regional air quality district to replace older vehicles with clean-energy upgrades. “We recently purchased an elec- tric bus to get our feet wet and see how the technology would work,” Jimenez said. He and Winters agreed that additional costs and

reduced revenues spawned by the pandemic are exac- erbating spending cuts implemented in response to the Great Recession of 2008. “We were already lean to begin with, so looking at cuts is very difficult,” Jimenez said. Meanwhile, Winters added, “We were trying to save

dollars five years ago. In the last year, we’ve been trying to save pennies. We were already hit hard to find any- where else to save and it’s even worse as we work to follow the state and CDC guidelines to keep buses clean and safe.” Winters noted that Kentucky education programs that

were supposed to receive 100-percent funding were already receiving only 60 percent, and they face another cut this year. “The school budget problem is a nation- wide thing,” he continued. “We have been cut and cut and cut. We don’t have the funds to buy new buses or keep up with maintenance, but we have to keep up with maintenance. You don’t have a choice.” While federal funding in the form of the Coronavirus

Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed by President Donald Trump on March 27 hasn’t sig- nificantly helped all transportation departments, it has buoyed some. Adam Mayo, who recently moved from Maine to

become the transportation director at Gloucester Public Schools in Massachusetts, said this year’s departmental budget “seems to be going quite well so far,” thanks to CARES Act funding. Yet he foresees the possibility that districts will need

more aid as the pandemic’s impact drags on. “I would think there are going to be areas where even vendors are going to have to step up and provide assistance to [cash- strapped] school districts. I know when this started, a lot of vendors offered their software or technology for free while schools were dealing with the pandemic,” Mayo commented. “It was obviously a sales ploy in some cases, but it also provided a free service to districts that could afford it during those months to, hopefully, assist with their operations … so I think you’ll probably see more of that going forward.” While noting that some of the federal funds must

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