By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — Regina Catholic Education Center is exploring its options after the Iowa City School Board voted 6-1 on Dec. 10 to stop providing buses for Regina at the end of this school year.
The measure aims to cut costs for the financially strapped Iowa City Community School District, which currently spends about $260,000 of unreimbursed funds to provide 11 buses for Regina’s elementary and secondary divisions.
Iowa City schools superintendent Lane Plugge recommended the district either reimburse Regina parents for transportation or give Regina the money the state reimburses it for providing busing to the school — which this year is about $173,000. Regina would then put those funds toward contracting its own bus service with the district and Durham School Services, which provides busing for Iowa City schools.
Regina hopes to find a contracting solution that won’t lead to “huge tuition increases,” Carol Trueg, Regina’s president, told The Catholic Messenger. She said the school wants to talk to Iowa City and Coralville about the possibility of leasing or purchasing buses.
“The thing we know about the Regina community is everyone comes together during times of adversity… so I’m confident we can find a solution,” she said. “There are a lot of resources in this community.”
By state law, school districts must either provide transportation for students of accredited non-public schools or reimburse parents of those schools’ students for transportation.
During the Dec. 10 meeting, board member Gayle Klouda noted the Iowa City district doesn’t provide busing to public-school students who choose to attend a school outside their boundaries. About 1,500-1,800 Iowa City students currently are voluntary transfers, according to Plugge.
Trueg said only one Iowa school district, Des Moines Public Schools, currently provides no busing, just reimbursement, to parents of non-public school students.
She was among about 50 Regina supporters who attended the Dec. 10 school board meeting.
Dave Krummel, principal of Regina Junior/Senior High School, also spoke, saying that Iowa City school buses weren’t running at capacity and urging the district to let public-school students and Regina students share transportation. “Having two buses go down the same streets makes no sense,” he said.
Mary Murphy, mother of four students who ride the bus to Regina, said their bus carries 12 students. It passes Horace Mann Elementary in Iowa City each weekday, she told The Catholic Messenger.
ueg and Durham transportation officials ways to reduce the number of buses transporting Regina students, but told the school board it wasn’t possible to do so and meet state limits on bus-ride length and distance students may walk to reach a bus stop.
Last month, 284 Regina students rode buses in the morning, and 264 rode them in the afternoon, said Curt Wheeler, Durham general manager at the Iowa City customer service center. Regina currently has 855 K-12 students.
Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, said he hoped the board wasn’t acting out of “anti-Catholic bias;” board members later said they were not.
“I don’t think our religious beliefs or lack thereof go into the decision-making process,” member Tuyet Dorau, a 1990 graduate of Regina Elementary, told The Catholic Messenger. “…It was a decision based upon pragmatism and the reality of the budget crisis.”
She said public-school students have borne the brunt of that crisis, losing programs and learning in “higher-than-desired” class sizes. She suggested the Regina community share the burden.
Before the vote on busing, Mike Cooper, vice president of the Iowa City School Board, acknowledged it would have to make unpopular decisions, but said members had no choice.
Sarah Swisher made the lone vote against ending bus service, arguing the district hadn’t explored all options for Regina. Trueg agreed, telling reporters that alternatives such as combining bus routes with those of public-school students deserved more consideration.
The board’s vote was “disappointing” to Susan Hagan, mother of a second-grader and sixth-grader at Regina. Without busing, she’s not sure she can send them or her preschooler to Regina next year. She works full time at the University of Iowa, and her husband is gone weekdays, working 100 miles from home.
“I’m hoping Regina works really hard to get a busing plan of its own,” Hagan told The Catholic Messenger. Loss of current students — or potential students — due to lack of busing would mean lost income for the school, she noted.
Murphy said she and her husband would still be able to send their children to Regina without bus service. But if a busing solution is found, she hopes it won’t result in increased tuition for school families.
Mary Wieser, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Davenport Diocese, raised the possibility of changing state law to give cities and school districts more flexibility in use of funds. “Iowa City has $30 million in reserves,” she said. “I don’t know why, in times of crisis, some of that reserve money couldn’t be used.”
She brought issues surrounding Regina busing to the attention of the Council of Iowa Accredited Nonpublic Schools in Des Moines earlier this month. She, superintendents for the other three Iowa dioceses and Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, will discuss the issues in January.