By Alejandra Alarcon and Rogelio Montaño
With California’s budget crisis, residents are becoming aware of current economic issues the state faces. With higher tuition rates for public universities and spending cuts slashing everything from education to health care programs, just how is our government going to tackle other issues we are currently facing?
Governor Jerry Brown recently announced that mid-year cuts to education will impact school transportation budgets by $1.5 million throughout California.
“In this district, transportation is a must,” said Linda Aguirre, director of transportation for Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD). “A lot of these kids would not be able to get to school without transportation, which means there will most likely be a higher drop-out rate.”
Even though final decisions have not been made, the news about cutting money from school transportation has caused concern among parents, students and community members.
“Rumors are flying,” said Steven Young, student transport specialist at Coachella Valley High School (CVHS), who explained that $1.5 million is equivalent to cutting 10 bus drivers. “This is going to affect us big time.”
Inland Congregation United for Change (ICUC) represents local residents who are worried about these looming transportation cuts.
“(The cuts) would leave the youth stranded,” said Allex Luna, a community organizer for ICUC. “How’s this going to affect them academically?”
Cuts in transportation could lead to a chain reaction, affecting families and students. Without a method of transportation, Luna fears there could be a drastic negative effect on school attendance.
“Every time you’re in that seat, the school gets paid,” said Luna, meaning that a decrease in the attendance of schools could lead to even more cuts in education.
According to Luna, more than three-fourths of the school’s population takes the bus, which shows just how many students would be affected by cuts in transportation.
Some motivated students, such as Yesenia Isidoro, will find any way to complete high school.
“I wouldn’t want to let my parents down,” said Isidoro, a senior at CVHS. “I think I would buy a bike so I could get to school every morning.”
Diana Reza, a sophomore at CVHS described her everyday bus experience. “The bus is already three people per seat. I’m pretty sure all the bus doors would break because everyone just shoves and rushes in to find a good seat.”
The situation could be even worse for students at schools further east. “Transportation is already an issue. I couldn’t imagine how much more affected the students would be if bus routes were completely cut,” said Berenice Venegas, a junior at Desert Mirage High School. “I live in Mecca, it doesn’t have many resources.”
Eastern Coachella Valley communities, such as North Shore and Oasis, do not have sidewalks or street lights, making it difficult and often dangerous for students to making the long walk to and from rural schools.
“It’s important to keep in mind that parents or guardians aren’t always going to have the opportunity to drive students to school every morning, due to their jobs or simply because they don’t own a vehicle,” added Venegas.
“Things are operating as normal, but for now we are just waiting for a decision,” said Linda Aguirre, director of transportation for CVUSD.
“Normal,” to some bus drivers already means carrying double loads and making several trips until all students arrive home.
“Buses have always been packed. In order to have one driver for one bus stop, we would have to hire more drivers, and unfortunately we don’t have that luxury,” said Aguirre.
As administrators await the official decision from the school board, ICUC is beginning to tackle the issue with “one-to-ones.” These are one-on-one meetings between community organizers and individuals for the sake of research. They are also meeting with groups of parents and teachers to set up public partnerships. Allex Luna, a community organizer with ICUC, said the group hopes to solve this issue before the school year is over. They plan to mobilize the community with press releases, phone calls, and social media.
“Not many people know that there are people trying to make a change,” Luna said. “The (ICUC) leaders represent change.”
“I’ve always contended that students are the reason we have a job, without kids we don’t have that either,” said Aguirre, director of transportation at CVUSD. “In this district, transportation should be a right, not a privilege, because our district is very rural.”
“It is not safe to walk home.”
To join ICUC’s efforts, contact Allex Luna at (760)398-0877 or at [email protected].
(Photo: Rosa Say via flickr)