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Staggering start times eyed as way to save cash

Move would allow District 54 to use fewer school busses

The Morris Elementary School District 54 Board of Education is looking at staggering the school start times for Shabbona and White Oak schools in order to use fewer buses and decrease transportation costs.

The board met last week and discussed this as a possibility that should be up for board vote at the beginning of 2013, said Superintendent Teri Shaw Tuesday. The district is seeking the thoughts of the community first.

"We're seeking community input to discuss any potential obstacles and solutions to those obstacles," she said.

Currently, the state reimburses transportation costs, but according to local legislators, the Illinois State Board of Education transportation budget may be zeroing out transportation funding, Shaw said.

With removal of funding, the state could remove the mandate schools offer transportation. The removal of this mandate would allow school districts to decide whether to offer bus service, charge for bus service, or set district policy on the transportation at a local level.

The district annually levies around $250,000 for regular and special education transportation and actually spends around $500,000, but the difference is made up by the state funding. Without the state money, the district needs to get the actual spending down to its levied amount.

To do this, the board is looking into decreasing the number of buses the district uses to bring students to school and to take them home from Shabbona Middle School and White Oak Elementary School.

By having White Oak students start school about a half hour later than Shabbona and Morris Community High School, the older kids can be picked up first and then the buses can go back for the younger kids, said Shaw. This could reduce the number of buses used by about half.

Morris elementary and Morris high school districts share bus service.

By using fewer buses, the district would reduce bus lease and bus driver costs, Shaw said.

Many are school districts, including Channahon, Plainfield, Coal City and Minooka, already use the staggering system, she said.

Depending on how efficient the bus routes are, White Oak students could start 30 to 40 minutes later than they do now. Shaw said the teachers' contract schedule is from 8 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. and whatever changes are made to the schedule will stay within that time frame.

A survey will be crafted and put online to gather the community's thoughts and concerns on the staggering system.

2012 LEVY

In other business, the school board approved its tentative levy for 2012. The levy reflects the school district's declining Equalized Assessed Value on properties in its district, which have been losing value for the last three years.

School districts file tax levies to make sure they capture all available property tax dollars once the actual EAV is determined. School district budgets are based on local property taxes.

The district's local income is about $7 million; in 2009, it was about $7.8 million.

"People will see a decrease in taxes payable to District 54 due to a decline in the property tax rate," said Shaw.

Last year's tax rate was $3.21. This year, the district's levy request is for $7.3 million, which would result in a tax rate of $3.09.

The board also approved its annual bond issuance. It will issue $1.9 million in working cash bonds. The district uses bonds for its operations costs.

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