As the State and City deplete rainy-day funds and chop key services to balance their budgets for the 2017 fiscal year that begins July 1st, the grim reaping leading to layoffs gets the headlines (and appropriately so, as emergent budget crises do trickle down to employees).  But it might be helpful now to begin looking ahead to Fiscal 2018, when, after having surgically sliced the muscle, officials next year will probably have to cut into the bone.

Today we are taking a look at a particular line item in the budget on page 240: transportation.  It’s a $20,738,822 million proposition now … and who knows when all the influential factors will cause it to spike up again.

Three years ago, Hartford school administrators saw that, at a cost of more than $400 per day, per bus, they needed to vigorously investigate street connections and traffic times, fully utilize the GPS on all the buses, get a few wins in contract negotiations, and thereby lower costs.  They have dropped the student transportation expenditure by $3 million since 2009, despite transporting many more children.

hartford public school transportation costs

he 98 buses running three years ago have been reduced to 90; collaboration across school districts to lower costs is being pursued, and the possibilities for adjusting bell times or taking other measures to further lower costs are always on the table, HPS Chief Operating Officer Donald Slater said in an interview this week.

At the same time, the District has increased regular ridership from 5,000 to 9,000 and special education serviced passengers from 1,300 to 1,450 over the past six years, all the while using logistical improvements to decrease costs.

Some $13 million of the $20.7 million in current HPS transportation costs goes toward out-of-district buses for students with disabilities, which require door-to-door service with monitors on board.  Going forward, creative, regional cross-district approaches could bring those costs down even further, Dr. Slater said.

The Bottom Line.  Hartford certainly did not need another firestorm right now and so the thought of increasing student walking distances to reduce high-cost bus routes was put out of mind… for now.  But Chief Communications and Public Policy Officer Kelvin Roldan warned, in a recent Board of Education committee meeting, budget constraints next year likely will require the re-thinking of student transportation and walking distances. This and other painful conversations are set to take place during next year’s budget process.