Falon Krause was surprised to receive a $300 bill this month for her two children to ride the bus to Lake Marion Elementary School.
The family recently moved to Lakeville from the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district, where they had never paid a fee for busing to school. But in Lakeville, district officials say, the Krauses must pay because they live within 2 miles of the kids’ school.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Krause said, noting that neighbors down the street don’t have to pay.
She has rallied neighbors to help make the case, and some local officials say the policy is worth discussing again. The school district instituted the busing fee in 2009 as part of an effort to deal with a budget shortfall.
“The resident that said it was unfair is right,” said Jim Skelly, a school board member in favor of revisiting the fees.
The policy follows state law, which says districts must provide free transportation when students live 2 or more miles from school. Within 2 miles, Lakeville charges families for service.
But Krause also takes issue with the district’s measurement. She says she lives exactly 2 miles from school — far enough to qualify for free busing. The district, however, measures the distance to the intersection where the bus turns into the school, and Krause lives less than 2 miles from that point.
“This whole thing appalls me,” Krause said. “There shouldn’t be a law like this because the state has severe climate changes and it has a severe winter.”
She has exchanged e-mails with district officials and contacted the school board about the issue.
An unfair policy?
Skelly said he hears complaints about the policy, especially from families with multiple kids.
The district charges $150 per child if families sign up for busing by July 15. After that, the fee rises to $175 per child. Each family’s total busing cost is capped at $525. Skelly said 77 families pay the full amount.
The fee began during a time of extreme budget cuts, and was “something nobody wanted to do,” he said.
District officials field calls from parents about six to 10 times a year who dispute the distance to their homes and believe they shouldn’t have to pay, said Douglas Ninow, the district’s information systems analyst.
“We do hear it on occasion, especially from those who are on the edges,” Ninow said.
The district uses a Geographic Information System (GIS) to measure the distance from each student’s home to one intersection where buses turn into the school parking lot. Because most schools have multiple doors and parking lot entrances, it is more practical to measure from a single entry point, he said.
Sarah Wellcome, a parent who lives near Krause, said she understands the idea of paying for busing.
“Everything has a cost. You have to cover it,” she said.
But the policy “doesn’t seem equitable,” she said, adding that everyone should have to pay, or no one should.
Open for discussion
In 2014, the district collected $332,000 from parents paying for busing, said Jaber Alsiddiqui, who works in Lakeville’s finance department.
Families tolerated the fee while the district was having budget problems, but now that district finances have improved, people may be questioning it, he said.
“Is it worth it?” Skelly asked. “If we’re only generating $300,000 off of this fee, for example, is it worth putting up with unhappy residents?”
“At some point, I would hope there would be a discussion about the future of that fee,” he added.
The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district has a $275 fee for elementary school students residing less than a mile from school who want to take the bus. For middle and high school kids, the fee kicks in if they live within 1½ miles of school, said Tony Taschner, district spokesman.
Krause said she wants the district to refund the fee since the odometer on her car says she lives 2 miles away.
She’s not giving up, despite the fact that two other neighborhood families have challenged the district and lost.
“I would like to see these board members walk every day to work and see if they can do it … because that’s what they’re asking small children to do,” she said.