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Activity buses costly, underused

Hortonville reviews free after-school routes

By Scott Bellile

A Hortonville Area School District committee opted to not yet pull the plug on a free after-school activity bus route program that district employees say is costly and underutilized.

The transportation, buildings, grounds, facilities, safety and liability committee on Feb. 8 recommended HASD make the program more cost-effective and ask parents for opinions on possibly introducing fees or cutting the program altogether.

Director of Transportation Harold Steenbock informed the committee that the district spends $4,500 annually for three bus drivers to cover three evening activity routes throughout Hortonville, Mackville and Greenville.

He said each bus typically picks up zero to three riders a day, primarily middle school students, after sports practices or school activities during the fall and spring.

HASD suspends activity routes during the winter due to low ridership. They will resume March 7.

An activity route bus departs from Hortonville High School around 5:30 p.m. each evening. If nobody is there, drivers go home and are paid for the time they spent checking for riders, Steenbock said. Activity route drivers earn $18.63 per hour.

According to data supplied by Steenbock, over the course of 19 weeks during the 2014-15 academic year:

• 100 students rode the Hortonville route more than 1,148 miles (mileage not recorded for seven students last spring so an average can’t be calculated)

• 43 students rode the Mackville route for 959 miles, averaging 22.3 miles per student

• 198 students rode the Greenville route for 1,516 miles, averaging 7.65 miles per student

• Students rode more 3,623 miles total

This past fall HASD blended two or three activity routes across four weeks for increased efficiency, so averages so far this year are difficult to calculate.

Drivers will sometimes use short buses, Steenbock said, but if drivers come from home then they’re likely to drive the full-size bus they keep there. Steenbock said the fuel efficiency for a short bus is maybe one-mile per gallon more than a full-size bus. At a cost of $1.26 per gallon to the district, he didn’t consider the difference remarkable.

Asked if he considered using vans, Steenbock said it would be risky because the vans couldn’t seat more than eight kids on a busy day.

Committee member Craig Dreier suggested the district charge parents who plan to utilize the program at the beginning of each school year. Steenbock said he hasn’t considered a fee because he wouldn’t know how to enforce it if a parent doesn’t pay and a child needs a ride home.

“Have you ever had [riders] sign up ahead of time, like sign up a week in advance? Have we done anything like that to hold people accountable earlier?” District Administrator Heidi Schmidt asked.

“I’ve thrown that idea out there several years ago and the principals really weren’t too keen on it. They didn’t think kids would sign up prior to that,” Steenbock said.

Committee member Dana Ramshak said it is unrealistic to expect parents or kids to know well ahead of time if they’ll need to ride the activity route.

Dreier said activity routes are a small fraction of Hortonville’s budget and a rural district should have an activity route. Ramshak also spoke in support of the route.

“As a kid growing up in a more rural district that was further away, if I didn’t have an activities bus when I was a kid, I couldn’t participate in activities,” Ramshak said. “It was my way [home], so I am sensitive to this.”

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