KELLER (CBSDFW.COM) - Monday is the first day back to school for most students across North Texas, and the first day that many school districts are having to deal with less money. Budget cuts have led to a new bus system in the Keller Independent School District, where parents must now pay a hefty fee for their kids to ride a school bus.
Parents pay $185 each semester for a student to ride the bus, and another $135 for each additional student. The fees come instead of an increase in property taxes.
The pay-to-ride program has not been popular with Keller parents. Only 2,300 kids are on the bus list this year – less than half of the those who were on the list last year.
Terry Hartzeg dropped off his 6-year-old son at Keller-Harvel Elementary School on Monday morning, but the boy will have to ride the bus home from school. “With three kids and one coming in a few days, the bus is a necessity,” Hartzeg said. He will still have to pay the full fee even though their child is only riding the bus one-way each day. “Thought we paid enough in taxes, but apparently not enough to keep the buses running.”
Hartzeg is hoping that the bus fee will be gone by the time his other children reach school age. “Hopefully things will get back in order,” he said, “and this was just a temporary thing.”
“I do know that it’s affecting parents, because I teach in the district,” said father Jay Asp. “I hear all the fallout from what’s happening.”
Even though her children never used the district’s bus service, mother Jenn Gee said that she would have paid a little more in property taxes to help other parents from paying a lot more in fees. “The raise in property taxes wasn’t that much,” Gee said. “I would have paid it.”
While some parents said that the new bus program is their only choice, others have found alternatives to the fee. Private transportation companies in Tarrant County have doubled their business. Kimberly Green is now a client with Smiley Transportation. “There was no way I was going to let my child walk or ride a bike across 1709, that’s a highway,” said the Keller mom.
“We treat and protect these kids as if they were our own,” explained Rushelle Wetzel with Smiley Transportation. “These parents know that and feel that.” (Click here to read more about these ‘kid taxi’ services.)
Other parents have decided to just fight the traffic around schools and drop their children off each day.
Traffic around Keller area schools was increased on Monday morning, but that is expected with the first day of classes. “I think this is more of a first day phenomenon,” said Asp. “But if it continues, it is certainly going to be a lot worse.” Most parents are expecting to see a regular increase in traffic, but said that it beats paying a fee. Keller school officials also expect a traffic increase, and have arranged for additional staff to be outside of schools each day to help monitor the situation.