Rome City Schools

Rome City Schools is facing a possible increase of $136,785 in the cost of using city transportation for busing students, as student enrollment for next school year is projected to surge above 6,348, creating a need for two additional bus routes, said Superintendent Lou Byars.

While bringing up the issue during a called board meeting Tuesday evening, Byars told board members he did not want to go into many details about the transportation increase and negotiations with the city because the newspaper was present. However, he clarified what he intended to say by the comment in a telephone interview Wednesday, saying he did not want it to appear as if he was speaking for the city, which ultimately makes any final decision on increasing the cost to the school system.

"It wasn't anything about the paper,” he said Wednesday.

The current 2019 budget, which was approved on first reading by board of education members, does not include the proposed increase, Byars said. System officials did not find out about the potential for a transportation increase until Tuesday — the day of the first public hearing on the budget — so only $1,584,280, the same amount as last year, was budgeted for it, Byars said. Along with adding the two routes, the city is also looking at a 2-percent increase to the current charge, he continued.

Byars and board members will meet with city commissioners Friday morning at 8:15 a.m. in the Sam King Room at City Hall to present the school system’s budget and likely discuss the transportation increase.

Board Chairwoman Faith Collins said though she would have liked to know about it at the start of the year, the school system will have to pay for it if asked “to make sure all of our children are on safe transportation and arrive to school on time.”

Adequately funding transportation to meet the demands of a growing student population — a trend which leads to increased transportation costs — is a must, said board member Elaina Beeman. She noted that some buses currently have to do two routes, leaving kids at school until their bus can return from its first route. It is unfair to those students, she said, and parents do not want their kids left at school waiting for their ride home.

Since 2005, the cost of using city transportation has jumped to approximately $1.07 million, Byars said in response to Collins’ question about the history of increases, as routes have been added over those 13 years. The school system is allotted approximately $250,000 to $300,000 by the state for transportation, due to its arrangement with city transit and the state not fully funding the school transportation formula, he said. The state also only provides funding for students who are picked up within a set distance from their given school, so the system does not receive funding for all the students riding buses, he continued.