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Yuba City Unified ponders ads in school buses
The district has managed to withstand transportation cuts of about 20 percent since the budget crisis began.
Buses for rent, providing mechanic services, even a consideration for in-bus advertising — little seems off the table when trying to maintain school transportation services.
As Yuba City Unified School District struggles with cuts to transportation funding in recent years, it has turned to creative ways to boost revenue. In doing so, it has been able to continue shuttling students across the district at a time when state funding is no longer sufficient to meet the expense, transportation director Robert Ozenberger said.
"We just try to use what we have," he said Tuesday.
By doing so, the district has managed to withstand transportation cuts of about 20 percent since the budget crisis began, he said.
In 2008, the district's annual budget for regular transportation was $1.84 million and special education transportation was $1.2 million. By 2010-11, regular transportation had fallen to $1.15 million and special education transport — which schools are required to provide — was at $1.3 million.
One way to preserve services was to reorganize routes and schedules to increase efficiency. Students may have to wait longer for buses to arrive, but at least they have service at a time when other districts have reduced or eliminated transportation, Ozenberger said.
The district has also found ways to bring in new revenue.
Charter-style buses used for long student trips, such as those to Disneyland, are now rented to church groups, wedding parties and for tours around the Sutter Buttes. It also rents the trademark yellow buses, such as last weekend for the Boy Scout Expo at Beale Air Force Base, and to schools with smaller fleets that need temporary replacements during repairs.
With a full-size bus maintenance yard, Yuba City Unified provides repair, smog and inspection services to nearby districts, such as Meridian Elementary, Plumas Lake Elementary and Live Oak Unified.
The district has also made considerations in the machine efficiency of its fleet, pursuing a conversion to compression natural gas buses that use less than half the cost of diesel fuel, and considering propane, which would cost even less.
"Difficult times sometimes create an opportunity to think in different ways than how we've thought before, and I think this is a good example," Superintendent Nancy Aaberg said.
Trustees especially did not want to have to reduce the radius of the service area for elementary or high school levels, she said.
"Transportation really is key to helping our students and our program," Aaberg said. "It serves a lot of purposes, not just school to home, but also for athletics and other learning experiences, such as field trips."
The district has about 50 buses in its fleet, including 22 special needs buses and 13 regular education routes — including contract school routes with other districts. It transports nearly 2,000 students a day.
Home-to-school transportation is critical, Ozenberger said, especially in Yuba City, which has two highways crossing through it, and in today's world with parents working longer hours with long commutes.
"They do rely on us to make sure while they are out of town, that we can get their kids to and from school safely," he said.
Getting students to school is also critical for securing the daily attendance funding the district receives from the state, Ozenberger said.
A recent consideration — though still very preliminary — is to generate transportation revenue through in-bus advertising.
Finance Director Jonathan Barth is out of the office this week, but gave a presentation to board members at the Sept. 25 meeting.
"This is an area where we would be pioneers," Barth said, noting he has not yet found another district in California that uses the practice, though Colorado, Connecticut and Texas do use in-bus advertising.
In California, state education code prohibits advertising on the exterior of buses, but interiors may be an option, with the potential to earn $50,000 a year, Barth said.
"It's not a lot of money, but $50,000 is not something to shake our tail at," he told the board.
Board members have expressed concerns about risks and challenges of getting into the advertising business, finding reputable companies to oversee the program, and ensuring any advertisements are school-appropriate. They have directed staff to continue researching the possibility.
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4783.Find her on Facebook at/ADagebb or onTwitter at @ADagebb.