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School board searching for transportation solutions to balance budget cuts

By Travis Fischer,

Discussion about bus routes went round and round as the Charles City Community School Board reviewed planned changes for student transportation during its regular meeting on Monday, June 10.

Back in January, with the district seeking cost-saving measures as part of budget reductions, Director of Operations Jerry Mitchell began work on a plan that would allow the district to cut down on transportation expenses.

While Iowa law mandates that elementary students who live more than 2 miles from their designated building are entitled to transportation, 3 miles for high school students, the Charles City school district has historically gone above that requirement by offering in-town street corner pick-up.

The changes, approved in May, eliminated one morning in-town shuttle route and three afternoon routes, leaving one morning and afternoon shuttle route to all schools.

While these changes are expected to save $56,000 next year, the loss of street corner pick-up has raised concerns among the community and school board members, particularly regarding younger students.

Complicating matters beyond just balancing student needs and the district’s budget is the statewide shortage of bus drivers.

“It used to be a great retirement job,” said Mitchell.

As the training requirements needed to drive bus have increased, the pool of willing drivers has dropped, making it more difficult for districts across the state to get people behind the wheel.

“They’re doing anything they can to try and get them,” said Mitchell, explaining that his diminished pool of drivers is already costing the district in overtime pay and additional workload as his staff struggle to cover bus routes in addition to their regular work.

While the elimination of in-town routes has been approved, the board will be revisiting the matter in its July meeting to look for ways to ease the burden of transportation for at least the younger students.

At the same time, Director of Finance Calli Boeckmann noted that the district still needs to find a way to cut back on spending. Boeckmann reported that the district has roughly $6.3 million that needs to last from now until September and, based on last year’s spending, an anticipated $7.4 million in upcoming expenditures.

“We will be looking at borrowing money if we have to go negative, so we need to pull back on the reins a little bit,” said Boeckmann.

The budget challenges will give newly contracted Superintendent Dr. Brian Burnight plenty to do as he begins his time in Charles City.

Burnight officially started his new position at the start of the month and has been getting to know the Charles City school and community, visiting with FFA students, going to summer workout sessions, getting to know the staff, and playing pickleball with community members.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Burnight. “I’m getting around and talking to people.”

In other business, the board approved the final tax rate for the 2025 fiscal year, setting the levy at the previously discussed $13.38 per $1,000 of taxable valuation.

The board also approved an agreement with Perspective Consulting Partners to work with the district on health insurance policies, approved the FFA department to sell off its obsolete tools, and approved wages for next year’s roster of para-educators.

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