Denton school officials are looking into the potential cost of providing transportation to pre-kindergarten students.
School officials last month gave school board members options that other North Texas school districts are using in regard to pre-kindergarten transportation. Denton officials intend to continue the discussion in August, Superintendent Jamie Wilson said.
“We’re focused on trying to get as many children involved in early education as we can,” he said. “We’re just looking at all options.”
Wilson said the district must examine what it would cost to transport those students.
In a joint meeting of the Denton City Council and school board in May, the United Way of Denton County presented its 2011 Community Assets and Needs Assessment. Among the educational needs identified by the United Way through discussion groups and surveys was the need for preschool programs.
Glenna Harris, school board vice president, said there are children who should be in preschool but are not because their families have no way to transport them to and from school.
“It’s the burning issue of our time” with an increased number of children living in poverty or just learning English, she said. Being in programs such as pre-kindergarten helps bring those kids — who are considered economically disadvantaged or have a reduced vocabulary — up to par with their peers by kindergarten, she said.
Harris said the district could either spend money now on early education programs or spend it later on the retention of students.
“The fact that there’s a half-day [pre-kindergarten] program and no transportation, that’s an issue,” she said. “We realize it costs money. We realize it’s money well spent.
“This is probably an effort that’s several years in the planning and execution.”
Wilson said it’s unknown the number of children within the Denton school boundaries who are not enrolled in pre-kindergarten because they do not have transportation.
The district receives state funding for a half-day for students eligible for pre-kindergarten. Families who enroll their child in full-day pre-kindergarten pay the difference in tuition for the other half-day, and families with children not eligible for pre-kindergarten by state requirements pay tuition to participate in the program.
Aaron Robbins, the district’s transportation director, told the board at the June 26 meeting that the district reached out to about 25 school districts that offer pre-kindergarten programs.
Half of those districts said they did not offer transportation due to lack of funding, and some have not responded, Robbins said.
Of those districts that did provide transportation for pre-kindergarten students, Robbins said, they approached it in one of three ways: neighborhood corner stops, campus-to-campus and door-to-door. Other factors to consider are the number of students being transported, the use of child seats, the use of a bus monitor and the district’s geographic size.
In theory, Robbins said, the district could implement all three options for transporting pre-kindergarten students.
Current estimates for the purchase of a 71-passenger bus with air conditioning, seat belts, GPS devices, a camera system and two-way radios are $110,137. The district also would need to consider the cost of car seats at $100 per child. Based on the 2011-12 pre-kindergarten population of 234 eligible students, the district estimates car seats costing more than $23,000.
Maintenance and operations costs for transporting pre-kindergarten students, which would include the pay and benefits of drivers and monitors, fuel, routine maintenance, repairs, administrative overheads and GPS licensing fees, are projected to total $32,000, Robbins’ presentation indicated.
“We’re just scraping the surface … getting started, and that’s the intent — getting started,” Wilson said.
An analysis of the corner-stop option called for the purchase of 13 buses, 26 additional staff and 234 car seats, according to Robbins’ presentation. Capital funding is projected to total more than $1.45 million while maintenance and operations costs total $416,000.
The campus-to-campus option would provide transportation to half-day pre-kindergarten students, and students would be dropped off at one elementary school and then transported to the campus where they attend pre-kindergarten. The option calls for the purchase of 14 buses and 28 additional staff members, Robbins said. Projected capital costs total more than $1.54 million while maintenance and operations estimates total $448,000.
The door-to-door option, which would pick up each pre-kindergarten child at their home, is projected to total more than $2 million in capital costs and $576,000 in maintenance and operations costs. Robbins said that under ideal circumstances the district could accomplish door-to-door service within an hour for 15 students.
His presentation reflected no growth in the pre-kindergarten population.
Wilson said the district would work with demographers at making estimates for growth.
Other options up for discussion include the district partnering with local agencies for half-day day care, offering day care at the Gonzalez School for Young Children, and providing full-day pre-kindergarten programs.
Board members said they were pleased with the presentation and found the figures interesting.
Board member Rudy Rodriguez said he would like to see the district continue discussion of early education, an issue that he called “critical.”
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.