What About This? By Wayne William Cipriano

I hope every Douglas County taxpayer, student, and student’s parents read the article on the front page of the Herald published on 30 May, 2019 which spoke to the school bus transportation system employed by our Ava R-1 School District.

An audit, analysis, and comparison to other districts as purchased by our School Board, using our property tax revenues, and by the bus route owners, using their own funds. There has been quite a lot of resistance to that audit for some time. I do not know which Board members were so reluctant to gather the facts or why. I can only make an assumption that the possibility, presented in anecdotal form for at least five years, that our bus system is a real bargain once being recognized as such by independent facts and statistics, and not just by opinions, might open the door to higher compensation requests from bus route owners.

Now, in terms of financial description, you can find me solidly between parsimonious on the upside and penurious on the down. I don’t like spending money. Paying higher taxes, for just about any reason, when my only options are voting against them and having my property seized for nonpayment, is just about as bad as it gets for me. The only relief I could experience in such cases is if I am getting a lot in exchange for the taxes I am forking over. Public education delivered so that the citizenry can intelligently exercise its responsibility to govern ourselves is one of those acceptable bargains.

Unlike the academic performance of our school system, where any timely and useful evaluation by us (in an absolute sense or in comparison to other systems) is next to impossible to acquire, our school transportation system is available for evaluation by any interested person every single school day, actually twice every single school day.

The mission of school bus transportation is, I imagine, twofold: transporting students safely; transporting students punctually. Any of us can judge immediately if those duties are being achieved every school day (or twice a day).

Since Rosalie and I no longer have students in Ava R-1, our evaluation must be second-hand. But I am pretty sure that if students were not being bussed safely and/or punctually we’d have read about it in the newspaper and heard about it on the radio. So, until I find otherwise, I ‘m going to assume our buses are operating properly.

For four or five years, and probably even longer, there have been a lot of conversations about the cost of our student transportation. I’m not going to summarize the arguments. They have been aptly covered in the Herald in news stories, editorials, articles, and letters to the editor; at School Board meetings and restaurants; in private homes. But all of these were arguments, positions, opinions. Facts, figures, hopes, dreams and bull were often intermixed. Everyone, it seemed, had an ax to grind or an iron in the fire, and it was difficult to understand what was really going on.

The idea of an independent audit, analysis, and comparison of our system of busing with those of other, similar districts, was floated, sunk, rescued, voted down, and finally supported by a bare majority of our School Board.

I’d like to make two observations about that. One is that the bus route owners must have been very, very confident that they would emerge from such an audit looking very, very well since they contributed, I’ve been told, fully half of the $5,000 fee charged for making the audit. The other observation is that the members of the School Board who obstructed this audit and tried to keep this information from us, should resign.

Like I said, I am as cheap as you can imagine, and after reading the highlights of the audit presented so well by Michael Boyink in the Herald, there is no doubt in my mind that we are getting a fabulous deal from the bus route owners to transport our students safely and punctually to school and back home again – we are getting our money’s worth deluxe. I’m sure you agree. I have not read the full audit, nor am I accurately aware of what percentage of our property taxes and other school revenues go to the bus system, so I cannot judge whether the bus route owners should get more of the present budget, or if the budget should be expanded. That is what we have a School Board for, and that is what they must decide now that they have an unbiased report to rely upon.

Should the School Board be convinced that our property taxes must be slightly raised to pay the bus route owners a bit more for the excellent service they provide to our school system, I, the cheapest guy you’ll ever meet, will reluctantly agree knowing that even with a moderate increase in our taxes, we’ll still be getting a great deal. Let’s pay these people what they are really worth and put this issue behind us.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could be presented with something like the bus system audit that would evaluate how much bang we are getting for our bucks in terms of the main job we are paying our school system to perform – the one, single, most important thing our district, any district, is paid to do: educate our students?

If our School Board balked at an audit for the transportation of our students, can you imagine how much the idea of an academic audit would appeal to them? But, if we don’t ask for one, we, sure as sunrise tomorrow, will never get one. I’d surely like to see such an audit. What about you?