Waimea Middle School raising transportation funds

Waimea Middle School officials did a little math last year and calculated they could save about $60,000 a year by purchasing their two school buses, rather than contracting for transportation services through the state Department of Education.

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Waimea Middle School officials did a little math last year and calculated they could save about $60,000 a year by purchasing their two school buses, rather than contracting for transportation services through the state Department of Education.

That’s important, Principal Matt Horne said Monday morning, after a Friday night fundraiser brought in another $2,500 or so toward their $120,000 goal, because every penny the school saves on transportation means more money for the conversion charter school’s classrooms.

And it’s in the classrooms that an independent evaluation team said the most changes can be made to improve student achievement. Waimea Middle School last year received a Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation, a designation it now shares with the likes of Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Parker School and Iolani School on Oahu. Part of that accreditation included the school evaluation, which highlighted eight ways to improve the school. Two of those were related to budgeting and finance, Horne said. But the remaining six were all classroom changes, including differentiated learning, which is targeting instruction to students with a variety of learning needs, improving teaching and instructional strategies and providing more routine feedback to students about their achievements and areas of need.

Horne has committed to the purchase. He told DOE officials this summer Waimea Middle School wouldn’t be using DOE contractor bus service starting next July. Some generous donors kicked off the fundraising, which, with Friday night’s donations, tops $30,000, about half of what is needed to purchase and deliver one bus.

“It’s important for the community to feel they need to make it happen,” Horne said. “It won’t happen without their help.”

Public schools receive transportation funds separate from the funding to run classrooms, but the funding that comes to charter schools on a per pupil basis is meant to cover transportation and education, Horne said. Right now, the school pays $150,000 a year to transport students. A consultant estimated the school would pay $90,000 annually to run their own buses.

Horne drew parallels between the community help needed to raise funds for buses, and the community support needed to improve the middle school students’ academic success. Right now, almost 60 percent of the school’s students head off to high school without reaching success benchmarks, Horne said. That’s not acceptable, but it can be fixed.

“We believe in all kids,” Horne said. “We believe that all kids can achieve at high levels.”

School officials picked the slogan “we’re going places” for the fundraiser campaign to reflect their desire to improve student achievement.

Getting funds from the community adds another level of accountability, Horne said.

“Now I have to answer to these people” who made donations, he said. The fundraising campaign is “a call to step up.”

At the same time, the school is gearing up to build a new science and technology building on the back side of the property. The project will turn a soccer field into nine classrooms. The state Legislature has appropriated $15 million for the project, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie has already released the funding.

So why buses? In addition to the money the school could save, savings they’ll realize even when they factor in the cost of purchasing, shipping, maintaining, fueling and driving the buses, having their own two vehicles offers the school something else vitally important, Horne said.

“Buses would offer flexibility,” he said. “It offers the flexibility to expand our day.”

The school already offers free homework time and other programs before and after school. But Horne said the school pays a lot to get the kids to the campus. Because Waimea Middle School is a conversion school, officials there don’t feel they can just tell parents to get kids to school without buses. The school accepts any student who wants to enroll, is immediately adjacent to the town’s public elementary school and remains the only public middle school option for children living as far away as Kawaihae.

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Those kids, by the way, do ride the bus all the way into Waimea, Horne said.

The transportation cost savings only account for regular trips to and from school. Field trips, such as an upcoming service day which will take students to five different sites, will cost the school about $2,000, Horne said. Getting kids to the beach might cost the school $500 per bus now, with the DOE contractor. If the school owns its own buses, and is already paying for bus drivers, that cost goes down to about $50, to cover fuel for the trip, he said.

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