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Pa. study looks at private student bus costs

March 05, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - School districts across Pennsylvania pay an estimated $132 million annually to carry private school students, a service they say is sorely underfunded by the state, according to a Pennsylvania School Boards Association survey of 204 school districts.

State reimbursement pays less than one-half the total $132 million cost. More than $73 million in local school revenues, primarily property taxes, are required each year to pay for the service after state reimbursement, the study said.

Gov. Tom Ridge's administration points to funding boosts each year since he took office, saying the state is doing its share.

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Several school districts, however, are calling for changes to state law to help alleviate the cost.

``Many districts must run an entire complement of buses in order to provide transportation to nonpublic students," a summary of the survey states.

Tuscarora School District in Mercersburg, Pa., uses 18 vehicles out of its fleet of 80 to carry 150 students to private schools, said Gary Rife, the district's transportation director.

In some cases, the district pays mileage costs for families who take their children to private schools instead of using a district vehicle, Rife said.

Of the Tuscarora School District's total $1.4 million transportation budget, between $180,000 and $200,000 a year pays for private school transportation, Rife said.

Pennsylvania and 12 other states require public schools to carry private students, according to the state school board association.

Of the 335,270 private school students in the state, 205,876 - 61 percent - are transported by public school districts.

The public often doesn't understand that families who send their children to private schools are entitled to the transportation since they contribute to public school revenues by paying taxes, said James Strickler, assistant administrator at Shalom Christian Academy in Chambersburg.

"They are taxpayers. They do live in the district," said Tuscarora Superintendent Ted Rabold.

Courts have consistently upheld the state law, enacted in 1972, which requires transportation for students who attend private schools within 10 miles of the district's boundaries - including those in other states.

Waynesboro, Tuscarora and the Greencastle-Antrim school districts carry most of their private school students to schools in Chambersburg, Pa., and Hagerstown, transportation department officials said.

According to the survey, the average Pennsylvania school district provides transportation for 377 private students at an annual total cost of about $215,000 or about $570 per student.

Figures from Franklin County school districts show:

  • The Chambersburg School District budgets more than $2 million a year to carry 7,619 public and private school students, said Lamar Hollar, Chambersburg's supervisor of transportation. The district doesn't break down the cost for private school students, but districts of that size pay an average of about $330,000, according to the survey.
  • Greencastle-Antrim School District budgets $111,370 to bus 147 students to private schools, said Connie Zimmerman, district transportation director.
  • Waynesboro School District, with a transportation budget of nearly $1.2 million, allots $90,158 a year to carry 160 private school students, said Robert Mesaros, school district superintendent.


State funding to the districts has increased since Ridge took office, from $70 per student in the early 1990s to $200 per student today, said Education Department spokesman Dan Langan.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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