OXFORD — The Oxford Hills School District Board of Directors gave the go-ahead to Superintendent Rick Colpitts and other school officials Monday night to look into reducing bus runs from two to one a day in order to help meet an estimated $1.2 million to $2 million budget gap in the coming fiscal year.

The move to reduce the current two bus runs to a single one, carrying all-age students on one bus, is expected to save about $393,000 — a number that will go a long way toward meeting predicted budget deficits, Colpitts said.

The board’s approval is only to study the option by gathering information. A recommendation will be made by Colpitts when he presents his fiscal year 2012 school budget this spring on whether to implement the idea. The new fiscal budget begins July 1, 2011, and runs through June 30, 2012.

Currently, middle and high school students are bused on the first run, elementary students are bused on the second run. With a single bus run, students of all ages would ride the same bus, reducing the amount of money needed for salaries and benefits for bus drivers, fuel, repairs, parts and tires.

The move would also mean the implementation of a similar start time for all schools, but no loss of instructional time.

“We need to get feedback,” said Colpitts of one of the next steps they will take, talking to bus drivers, staff, students and parents about their feelings. “This is a significant change,” he said.

The request was made following a preliminary presentation of where Colpitts expects next year’s budget to be. The presentation showed that local taxpayers may be asked for a tax increase to keep the budget reduction as low as possible.

Taxpayers have been able to approve the school budget without a tax increase for the past few years, in part, because of a state law that was implemented last year that allows school districts to raise only the proportion of money that the state was able to raise under the Essentials Services and Programs funding formula. If the state was able to raise 100 percent of its funding for local school districts, the district towns would have to come up with $3.4 million more to get their full share of state funding, Colpitts said.

“Even with the tax increases we’re still going to cut significant money from our budget,” Colpitts said.

Colpitts and other school officials are going to be meeting with local legislators this Friday to discuss the budget, the re-enactment of the “sunset clause” and other issues.

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