Providing after-school bus transportation for West Orange-Stark high school and middle school will cost a basic $66,000 a year. That would be for only four days a week, Monday through Thursday. West Orange-Cove Superintendent James Colbert gave that cost to the school board Monday evening. The board, however, sent Colbert back to get more costs. A vote on providing the after-hours buses will be made in a special meeting Monday August 5th.

Board members 'Chop' Thomas Mohammad and Andrew Hayes indicated they would like the bus service to be active after competitions like ball games and UIL academic activities. Hayes pointed out that the district has a large percentage of single-parent households that can't always provide transportation at night. The students often have to walk several miles home.

The district started its new budget year in June and the costs for bus service would have to come from other departments. Colbert suggested all supplies in the district would be cut 5 percent. In addition, the new budget has two new maintenance workers. He said the district could hire only one instead of two. The cuts in supplies and the maintenance department will save about $73,000, enough to pay for the basic after-school bus service. Board President Pete Amy questioned a number of the reasons for the buses and indicates he is opposed to the service. ‘I just don’t think we can afford at this time to run the buses,’ he said.

The school district has a balanced budget this year for the first time in a number of years. Colbert cautioned against using any of the reserved funds, or savings, to pay for the bus service. He said the bus service will be an on-going expense and the reserves should not be used for those kinds of items. In addition, Finance Director Melinda James said she received information Monday that the final tax rolls will not be as much as expected when the board did the new budget. She will calculate how much tax income that could be lost because the industrial property appraisals ended up less than estimated earlier. The Orange County Appraisal District sent the final certified tax rolls late last week.

The after-school service will be for boys and girls in all extracurricular activities. It will also be for students staying late for tutorials or for detention.

Amy questioned that if safety is a factor, why would the district not offer the transportation on Fridays after games or on Saturdays when athletes watch game films? He also asked that if a student gets hurt while walking home on a Friday or Saturday, would the district be liable because of not giving the rides on those days?

Colbert this week said he will try to get a calculation on how much buses will cost after athletic events and UIL competitions. After game rides could also apply to the band, drill team and cheerleaders. Colbert said that will be hard to calculate because of the number of boys and girls teams involved at the two schools. ‘If we provide it after games, I don’t know how we can pay for that,’ Colbert said.

Trustee Tony Dallas said he doesn’t know what the answer is concerning the bus service. ‘It makes me nervous because we don’t have a (budget) cushion,’ he said.

Trustees Hardy O’Neal and Mary Ann Kirksey were absent from Monday’s meeting. Dallas, Amy, Hayes and Mohammad were active in the discussions Monday and last week. O’Neal, who attended last week, contributed to the discussion at that meeting. Trustee Eric Mitchell didn’t comment either time on the after-school bus service.

-Margaret Toal, KOGT-