August 22, 2013

The Carroll Community School District board of directors Monday increased by 5 cents the per-mile rate it charges the Kuemper Catholic School System to transport parochial students for sports and other activities.

The charge - which amounts to a partial reimbursement for the cost to the public school district - will go from 45 cents per activity mile to 50 cents through Dec. 31. The district and Kuemper school officials plan to re-evaluate the financial aspects of the non-classroom busing program at that point.

The state reimburses public schools for a large percentage of the costs associated with transportation of non-public students - but state dollars do not extend to extracurricular activities. By Iowa law, public school districts have to provide transportation to non-public students for classroom-related travel.

The increase of 5 cents a mile would cost Kuemper $1,481 more annually based on the 29,627 activity miles logged for the school in fiscal year 2011-2012. Kuemper reimbursed the district $13,332 of the actual $17,055 cost for the per-mile transportation - for a $3,723 shortfall. That gap would be $7,356 if insurance costs are factored into the equation, said CCSD business manager Gary Bengtson.

The district passes the full cost for activity bus drivers - which increased from $10.15 an hour to $11.15 an hour this summer - to Kuemper.

Bengtson had recommended an increase from 45 cents to 60 cents per mile to make up more of the difference in the overall extracurricular gap.

CCSD superintendent Rob Cordes says the numbers justify an increase.

"It certainly shows that you're operating at a loss," Cordes said.

Cordes added, "I can tell you, 45 cents isn't coming close to what it's costing."

Kuemper president Vern Henkenius said the public school district did not provide Kuemper with enough warning on an increase to make accommodations in its budgeting.

He also said the district did not make the request clear.

"I have received four cost proposals in eight days," Henkenius said, adding that he believed, based on the information, that the public school district may hike the per-mile charge to 70 cents.

Bengtson said he provided updated data to Kuemper, information that actually decreased the per-mile cost to the parochial system as the process evolved.

In the end, Kuemper and Carroll school officials agreed that the timing of the proposals could be better handled at the beginning of the year, when more state figures are known, not estimates.

On an interim basis the CCSD board voted 5-0 to increase to 50 cents the per-mile cost for Kuemper through the end of the year.

Board member LaVern Dirkx recommended the 5-cent-per-mile increase. Board member Dennis Molitor, while suggesting the district keep the per-mile cost at 45 cents, voted for the increase.

The matter demands more attention, said board president Kim Tiefenthaler.

"We need to start recouping something, or getting closer," Tiefenthaler said.

Bigger picture, the school district in fiscal year 2011-2012 requested $294,890 - the full cost of transporting Kuemper students - from the state for non-public school transportation route miles and received back 69 percent, or $202,093. The remaining $92,797 was covered through general fund money in the Carroll Community School District, said Bengtson.

The Legislature provides a set amount of funding for the non-public transportation, which Bengtson said never covers the requests from districts around Iowa with parochial populations.

"If they would fully fund that, that would alleviate a lot of the problem," Bengtson said.

In the last fiscal year, the Legislature appropriated $7 million to the non-public transportation reimbursement fund, said Iowa Department of Education communications director Staci Hupp.

Hupp said the department received $10 million in reimbursement requests for that period. The department is forced to pro-rate the reimbursements equally to all districts that seek them, she said.

Under Iowa law, school districts don't have to use their own buses to transport non-public students. Districts can hire a third party or reimburse parents.