SALT LAKE CITY -- Using school buses is the safest and most economical method to transport children to and from schools, school officials say.
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met Thursday to hear presentations about how much funding is needed for such programs as transportation, school library/media centers and school nurses.
The committee will meet again next week to hear from other groups that could be affected by budget cuts.
The committee has to decide how it will allocate $91 million left of the $2.7 billion base budget that goes to school districts and charter schools.
That budget was approved Wednesday by both the House and the Senate.
It also has to prioritize which programs will receive additional funding if the state's revenue projections for 2011-12 are higher than now expected.
Those numbers are expected within the next few weeks, said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said after the meeting that he is frustrated because those who made presentations had little time to do so.
First, the meeting started late because several committee members arrived late, Handy said.
Second, committee co-chairman Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, made a long presentation, "overwhelming us with information, and it took valuable time away from those who wanted to give testimony," Handy said.
Sumsion explained to committee members that there is not enough money to fund all of the programs, but that the base budget is adding money to fund additional students.
One of the programs discussed was transportation of students to and from schools.
On average, districts' transportation budgets consist of 70 percent state funds and 30 percent district funds. Only 10 of the 41 school districts raise funds through guaranteed transportation tax levies.
The majority, including Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Morgan, Ogden, Weber, Granite and Salt Lake districts, do not impose a guaranteed transportation levy, according to a report by the Utah State Office of Education.
Transportation is a line item on the state's budget. Last year, it received $56 million in ongoing funds from the state and $6.3 million in one-time funds.
But there is no funding for it for the 2011-12 year.
By law, districts have to transport elementary students who live 1.5 miles or more from their school and secondary students who live two miles or more from their school.
Geoffrey W. Leonard, with the Utah School Employees Association, said the majority of districts bus students.
"It is the safest and most efficient way to transport children," he said.
State Superintendent Larry Shumway handed out a report regarding pupil transportation.
"Each day, over 383,000 student trips are made to and from school in school buses," the report states.
Associate Superintendent Todd Hauber said the Utah State Office of Education did a feasibility study to see if contracting with a bus company, such as Utah Transit Authority, would save money.
The study found it would cost the state $6.74 per student per trip if UTA were contracted, while it costs $1.58 per student per trip using the current school buses, Hauber said.
About two-thirds of the costs of transportation is tied to salaries and benefits, he said.
The Salt Lake School District contracts with UTA to bus students to West High School. That costs the district $306 per student per year, Hauber said.
UTA has recently announced a 25 percent increase in rates, Shumway said.
He said districts do not all receive the same amount of funding for transportation.
San Juan School District, with an enrollment of almost 3,000 students spread over a wide area, spends $584 per student from a transportation budget of about $1.5 million.
Davis School District budgets $6 million for its transportation department, which is about $91 per student. It has a student enrollment of about 66,000, according to the state report.
Shumway said districts like Davis are able to spend less per student because they have shorter routes to the schools than the rural areas.