At least half of secondary school bus routes could be eliminated by several Top of Utah school districts if House Bill 166 passes.
The bill increases the distance that students must live from school, from two miles to three miles, before the state will reimburse local districts for busing.
"It will eliminate half of our bus routes," Christopher Williams, community relations director for Davis School District, said Monday.
Ogden School District could see most of its bus routes for secondary students eliminated, said Gary Reed, district director of support services.
"It's a compromise," said Morgan School Superintendent Ronald Wolff.
Basically, districts are paying for the majority of the transportation costs now because of budget cuts over the past few years, Wolff said.
"This is going to mean an hour-and-a-half walk to school for some of our students, and that's hard when school starts at 7:30 a.m.," said Nate Taggart, spokesman for Weber School District. "This could be a real hardship for some families."
Box Elder School District also will experience huge changes, said Superintendent Steven O. Laing. Most of the students who live in Brigham City and have been bused to the high school and middle school, will have to find their own transportation or walk.
Fewer routes also means fewer bus drivers will be needed, district officials said.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, allows school districts to opt out of unfunded mandates. Districts could choose to continue to bus students who live closer than three miles, but will not receive any state funding to do so.
The bill received unanimous approval in the House Public Education Committee on Friday and is now heading for the House for further consideration.
"This bill comes from recommendations from folks in public education," Dougall said. "We asked: Are there mandates that we should lift that would give you greater flexibility in these difficult times to meet the educational needs of children? This is from the list they gave us."
The bill's fiscal note states the State Office of Education could save $4.8 million in 2010-2011 if the provision is adopted.
The bill has the support of the Utah School Boards Association, said Steven H. Peterson, associate executive director.
"No one likes this," Peterson said. "It's a money issue."
Wolff said the bill helps the state save money.
Martell Menlove, deputy superintendent in the Office of Education, said the reimbursement the state currently gives local districts for busing does not cover all of the districts' transportation expenses.
The state is supposed to reimburse the districts for those costs, but district officials said they receive about 69 percent of the cost from the state.
Districts cover the remaining costs from the basic education funds they receive from the state. If they choose to continue busing students who live closer, they will have to use funds that could be used for other educational needs, Menlove said.
The bill also changes how districts could raise funds for transportation. In the past, they could use transportation levies only to pay for busing for hazardous routes, interscholastic activities, night activities and educational field trips approved by the board.
Under the bill, districts would have the option to impose a tax on property owners to raise funding for transportation if they want to bus students who live closer than three miles to the schools.
-- Standard-Examiner reporter Dan Weist contributed to this report.