Next year, the school district will foot the bill for busing some Alta students to schools in nearby Driggs, Idaho.
The Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees decided as much at its monthly meeting Wednesday. A transportation plan submitted by district administrators for approval would have eliminated busing for Alta students who decide to go to middle or high school at Teton School District No. 401, rather than commuting over Teton Pass.
When that plan was announced, some affected Alta families sent a letter panning the idea, saying they had received notice just days before Wednesday’s meeting.
“We are particularly concerned that resources are consistently cut — or threatened to be cut — from the Alta School and students,” the letter read, “these cuts are not equally shared across Teton County, and TCSD consistently fails to communicate and get support from Alta residents regarding TCSD decisions that affect our community.”
District officials’ rationale for eliminating the service was that the Wyoming Department of Education had informed them that driving those students to their chosen out-of-state school was not a reimbursable expense. Buses would continue to take Alta children to Alta Elementary School, just not to Teton Valley schools.
A staff report submitted to the board said the service cost $9,543.29 for the current school year and would likely cost within 10% of that number for 2020-21. That report said the board could cover the cost from the general fund or cut the service, but recommended cutting it.
Alta parents argued that cutting the service would disadvantage their children, as did the district’s move last year to eliminate sixth grade at the Alta school.
“As Teton County, WY taxpayers, our children deserve equal rights and access to education,” the parents’ letter read. “These decisions aren’t equalizing services for our students — they are discriminatory and do not provide equal access to education.”
When the transportation plan came up for a vote Wednesday, the Alta parents found a receptive school board and district officials. Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jeff Daugherty, whose office is in charge of bus routes and made the original recommendation, said he had heard from several Alta families. Also, he said, the state Education Department had “left the door open” for the service to be reimbursed.
At the meeting, he altered the recommendation, saying the district should pay out of the general fund for one year while it negotiates the reimbursement.
Trustees agreed with Daugherty, saying the district owed it to the students.
“The way I look at it is, we pay tuition for those kids in Driggs because it’s the best solution for safely transporting them to school,” Trustee Janine Teske said. “As long as those kids are six through 12 students they belong to us.”
Teske, the trustee who deals most with the Wyoming Legislature and other statewide officials, said officials in Cheyenne often come up with new interpretations of rules. Given that most districts, especially ones in urban centers like Cheyenne, aren’t faced with a group of students who must either travel over a mountain pass or go to school in another state, those officials don’t understand the situation.
As long as those students live in Teton County, trustees said, it’s the school district’s responsibility to ensure they are able to go to school, even if they go in Driggs. Teske suggested that if the transportation of those students were to be included in the memorandum of understanding with Teton School District No. 401, Wyoming officials might understand its importance.
Until then, the district may have to keep paying the tab.