Heated exchanges marked a spirited budget meeting Tuesday as the Davis County School Board gave final approval to a hold-the-line 1994-95 budget while unhappy parents protested the loss of school bus service affecting 3,800 students.
Taxpayers will not see an increase in the school portion of their property-tax bills next year, but the emotional issue of busing overshadowed all others.Some parents ripped school board members for apparently not caring about the safety of children walking to school on unsafe routes, while defensive board members retorted that the audience didn't know how demanding their jobs as public officials are.
"I realize we're caught in a dilemma," replied board president Louenda Downs. "Why is getting a child to school the district's responsibility? Is it our mission to get children to school or to teach them?"
Downs said it's difficult for a school board to provide quality education, keep taxes down, operate under numerous state and federal constraints and still keep all constituent groups happy.
The business community applauds when the board trims money, Downs said. Meanwhile, "Another community yells at us, `You knuckleheads, put it in the art program or the music program.' "
But parents objected to the way the busing decision was made and urged that the budget be re-evaluated and funds shifted so children don't have to walk to school along dangerous routes.
"Please be a little more careful with the money," urged parent Lynette Phillips.
Phillips later said that protesters have been made out to be a "radical bunch," but they're really just worried parents.
"We're concerned for all the kids, not just our own children. We want to make sure all children get to school safely," Phillips said. "All we're asking is that they re-evaluate the hazardous routes so that there's a fair standard for everyone."
School officials plan to create a committee to evaluate bus routes to determine which are officially deemed "hazardous." But the district's transportation direction already has said that there is only enough money for to take care of a portion of such routes next year.
The original recommendation to cut certain bus routes came from another committee that observed the Davis District is the only one in the state that transports so many students who are not eligible for busing.
The district has been doing this for years at its own expense because the state will not provide financial reimbursement for school bus rides for elementary students who live less than 1.5 miles from school or secondary students who live less than 2 miles away.
District officials have said that the money for this traditionally has been taken from textbook funds.
Davis School Superintendent Richard Kendell said the district's transportation deficit has ranged from $400,000 to $1.3 million in recent years. "We can't continue to do that," Kendell said.
The budget itself was something of an anticlimax. The board approved a $172.4 million spending plan that represents a 5.6 percent increase over last year. The tax rate will be .010325. There will be no school property tax increase because the district will be getting more revenue from the state.
New expenditures next year include hiring more teachers, offering extra playground supervisors and school counselors, providing a cost of living increase for employees and opening a new junior high school.