Struggling school districts get busing reprieve


Getting our children to school has become a very contentious issue across the state of Indiana.

A handful of school districts have said they simply can't afford to bus students to school, but Eyewitness News has learned that lawmakers took last-minute action in the recent legislature session to address the problem.

Muncie, Franklin Township, Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield, Beech Grove and Decatur Township are just a few of the school districts currently exploring their options when it comes to busing. But now lawmakers have given them a three-year reprieve.

Muncie voters voted down a proposed referendum to fund transportation. Decatur Township is in the midst of a similar campaign.

Indiana lawmakers noticed a trend across the state and addressed it with a last-minute amendment into House Bill 1062.

"A number of schools said they will not be able to provide bus service and this hopefully will give them a relief valve for a three-year period," said House Speaker Brian Bosma (R).

"If a district is losing more than ten percent of their levy to the protected tax, then the state is going to make up the difference," explained Hamilton Southeastern Superintendent Brian Smith. "So we are good for three more years and we are hoping the legislature can take a close look in successive sessions at this and make an informed decision about what makes sense."

Muncie Public Schools said by tweaking routes, using city transit buses and rainy day funds, the district will now be able to keep the buses rolling.

Township stopped busing in the 2011-12 school year but was forced to bus again the following school year. The district lost $18 million because of the property tax caps this year, but told Eyewitness News the proposed legislation would allow the district to continue busing for the next three years.

These may be the high-profile cases, but the belief is many others are waiting and watching.

"It is a handful, but it's a couple of handfuls and there are more who are saying, 'We're next'," said Speaker Bosma.

Decatur Township may have the most to lose with this "Band-aid solution," as most districts are referring to it, since it is currently touting a bond issue for $3.85 million annually, or $27 million total - all earmarked to address transportation and capital projects for the next seven years. That is key since no one knows what solution lawmakers will devise at the end of this three-year temporary solution.

The governor just signed off on the extension Tuesday evening.