Questions frequently asked regarding bus routes get answered by the school district

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 4:54 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - For many families enrolled in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, there have been questions surrounding the means of transportation for students who rely on buses.

The district responded recently to some of these questions, one of them being who actually pays for transportation?

Currently, the State of Alaska does not require districts to provide transportation for students; but Karen Melin, the Interim Superintendent for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District says even though that may be the case, the district is brainstorming ways to help alleviate the burden families have with getting students to school.

“We’re working to find out how we can support students, the ones that if they don’t ride a bus they don’t come to school,” she said, adding that the district is trying to figure out where those pockets of kids are, and looking at different ways to provide those students reliable transportation to school.

Another frequent question asked by families is how the school district is paying for routes even when they are not delivering those routes. Melin replied, “We pay by the route to our contractor, and so because we are not getting the routes that we originally thought we were, we’re not paying for those.”

According to Melin, transportation is not generated from local tax; it is grant-funded through the State of Alaska. Historically, this funding does not cover the district’s total transportation costs, and the district has subsidized this shortfall using district general funds, though this has not happened in the last 2-3 years.

“That also indicates there might be an excess at the end of the contract that we have to figure out how to deal with, and some of that might be ideas moving into the future,” she said.

In a press release sent out Friday, the school district added that they have reached out to military and borough partners to look at possible ways to work together to cover areas of need for transportation. Use of a voucher program is one idea being considered, but only viewed as a short-term solution.

Melin also commented on how the bus issues have affected school attendance.

“We don’t have a mechanism in our system, a place in our Power School attendance to say ‘didn’t attend because there is no bus,’ so we can’t have really reliable data that says ‘this many students missed school because there was no bus.’ But I do believe anecdotally that it does impact some students,” she stated.

So how can families reach out to the school district with any questions and concerns? Melin says at this point there is not a specific link in regards to transportation but one could be in the works. “That’s coming, that dedicated space for conversations is coming,” she explained.

Until they get a link up and running, the best way for families to reach out with any concerns can be found on the school district’s website via the “Let’s Talk Communication” link.

“There is a little Let’s Talk button on there where parents can submit ideas, concerns... this is for any issue that you want to bring up,” Melin said “That’s why Let’s Talk is there, but we will be setting up a more specific transportation group and we will message that out once it is ready and live.”

Knowing that this can be a confusing and sometimes frustrating obstacle for all parties involved, Melin says she is hopeful and appreciates how the community has come together to work through these challenges. “The real players in this whole game are the students, and the purpose for our transportation is to get them to school. From what I see, families and community members are committed to getting kids to school so they can learn. So again, appreciation to the community for working with us, partnering truly with us and the families to get kids to school.”

For more information regarding the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, visit their website.

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