Friday, April 08, 2016

School bus transporation costs in rural Arizona county are more than triple the state average

In rural and remote areas where the area is expansive but population is sparse, schools are racking up the miles and paying out big bucks for transportation costs to bus students to and from school. Buses for Arizona's Patagonia Union High School, 18 miles from the Mexican border, on average travel more than 600 miles per day. Buses for the Patagonia Elementary School District travel 336 miles a day, and nearby Sonoita Elementary School District run 480 miles a day, Paulina Pineda reports for Nogales International. The combined student population is 260. The school districts in Eastern Santa Cruz County are part of a transportation consortium that provides buses to all three districts.

In fiscal year 2014-15, transportation costs for students was nearly $386,000, Pineda writes. "At PUHS and Patagonia Elementary, transportation accounts for 8.7 percent of total expenditures, and at Sonoita Elementary, it’s 7.9 percent, according to an Auditor General report on school district spending." While the state reimburses each school district for miles driven, the costs per rider are triple the state average. At both Patagonia districts the cost per rider is $3,762, while cost per rider at Sonoita Elementary School District is $3,669 in 2015, up from $1,600 in 2014. The state average is $1,071, according to the Auditor General report.

"Jerome Rhoades, dean of students at Patagonia Public Schools, said one reason costs have started to rise is because the consortium now has six buses rather than three, which means there are fewer students on each route—even though the consortium is spending more money on drivers’ salaries, gas and bus maintenance," Pineda writes. "Previously, Rhoades said, the consortium transported students from each district on a single bus, but the Auditor General forced the consortium to provide a bus for each of the three districts so that each school could be reimbursed for mileage."

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