School transportation costs have soared in West Virginia,early doubling during the past decade, even though the state buses 25,000
Gasoline prices have shot up. Liability insurance costs more.Bus driver salaries are rising. And West Virginia school buses are travelingmore miles every year. ?At one time you had 25 students on a ridge,? said Jay Yeager,transportation director in Wetzel County. ?Now there are only three. We have torun the bus on more roads to fill up the buses. If there are only two studentson a ridge, we?re still required to go up there.?
West Virginia spends nearly 7 percent of its education budgeton transportation, more than any state in the nation, according to data fromSchool Bus Fleet Magazine. Four counties ? Gilmer, Clay, Tyler and Doddridge ?pend more than 10 percent of their budgets on busing.
West Virginia ranks 10th in the nation on transportationpending on a per-pupil basis. Gilmer County pays more than $1,000 per pupil to
haul children to school. ?There?s virtually no incentive to control costs,? said JulioMassad, a consultant who studied West Virginia school transportation in 1998.
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Massad recommended numerous ways to control costs, from changesin the state?s school funding formula to cutting salaries for bus drivers, whoare paid for full-time work when they only work part of the day. The rising transportation costs have forced counties to slashelsewhere: in classrooms, offices and cafeteria kitchens. ?They don?t have enough cooks to cook the meals,? said statechools Transportation Director Wayne Clutter, who recommends an overhaul of
the state funding formula. To pay for bus drivers in Pocahontas County, the school boardeliminated weekend custodians who clean the schools. The state?s funding formula distributes money based onenrollment, not the number of students who ride buses or the number of milesbuses travel. Last year, state schools Superintendent David Stewartrecommended that legislators allocate $3.6 million to hire 119 additional busdrivers. Legislators rejected the request. West Virginia has taken at least one step to curb costs since1998: School buses are now retired after 12 years of service instead of 10. Thechange saves the state $2.3 million a year. To contact staff writers Eric Eyre and Scott Finn, use e- mail or call 357-4323.