Idyllwild students attending Hemet High School will no longer need a bus pass, thus saving their families about $520 annually for the pass.

“Parents will no longer be required to pay fees to receive home to school transportation,” the district said in a press release.

At its April 7 meeting, the Hemet Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved the elimination of the bus pass for next year and added seven more routes to its bus system in the valley.

“Megan Haley and I think that Idyllwild, Cottonwood and Hamilton families will be the big winners here because of the distances involved,” said HUSD Idyllwild Trustee Vic Scavarda. “Busses are safer, statistically, and teachers at the meeting expressed the hope that this will cut down on tardies at Hemet High.”

In addition, the distance from a school for eligibility for district bus transportation was reduced.

“The board approved reducing the distance for students to be eligible for bus service from 5 miles to 4.5 miles for secondary schools (grades 6-12) and from 2.5 miles to 2 miles for elementary schools (grades K-5),” wrote Vincent J. Christakos, HUSD’s assistant superintendent for business services. “This will increase the number of eligible students who can ride the bus. These changes will make HUSD's transportation services for students the best in the area because the other districts around Hemet USD will still be at 5 miles and 2.5 miles.”

The department will review the effect of reducing the distance and may reduce it further for school year 2016-17.

The proposal came from a review of the district’s transportation program as a result of a Board request earlier this year. The staff report states, “elimination of transportation fees will, indeed, increase participation amongst the current eligible students.”

The bus pass revenue totals about $70,000 annually and the HUSD total budget is more than $175 million. The district collects about $14.5 million annually from its contracts with more than 40 other districts and agencies for transportation services. Consequently, the staff report says, “Bus pass revenue has become an insignificant amount of the overall revenue to the department,” and places “… a heavy burden on families … even a greater inconvenience for outlying families.”

“HUSD has subsequently contracted to provide transportation services to other districts in the area and in Southern California, resulting in a positive cash flow for us,” Scavarda added. “Many districts experience the opposite situation, having to pay for transportation from sources that could be better used for classroom expenses. So we are fortunate.”

Overall the proposal will cost the district $750,000. Transit buses cost $165,000.00 each. $60,000.00 annually is needed for the driver, maintenance, fuel and support services. But the costs will come from the revenue that the district collects providing transportation services to other districts such as San Jacinto and Perris.

The history of the bus pass began in the early 1980s when the California Supreme Court ruled that regular home to school transportation was not a “right” guaranteed under the state constitution. Eventually, HUSD instituted a fee-based system in 1992 in an attempt to offset the cost of providing home to school transportation.

In other business, the trustees unanimously chose Patrick Searl to replace former trustee Dr. Lisa DeForest, who resigned last month. He will complete her term, which expires in December 2016. He is a former member of both the Lake Hemet Municipal Water District and the Valley Health System boards.

The board interviewed eight other candidates for the position.

“I was impressed with the quality of all the candidates and we faced a very tough decision,” Scavarda said in an email. “I am confident that Patrick will be an excellent member of the board, and we all look forward to working with him.”

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected].