A new fee schedule for private schools using the Baldwin Rural Area Transportation System (BRATS) will mean an increase is coming for the private schools and families who use the service.
The Baldwin County Commission recently asked County Engineer Joey Nunnally and other staffers to pare down the BRATS budget to make it more cost effective.
“The commission tasked me and BRATS to really look at our budgets and they kept inching up on us and getting a little higher,” Nunnally said. “Y’all tasked us with looking into how to decrease those costs.”
During his presentation on Dec. 18, Nunnally said BRATS originally asked for just over $1 million for 2019 but with the cuts proposed in personnel, buses, routes and raising rider fees. he and staff were able to pare that to about $905,000, still more than the $875,000 budgeted for 2018.
During that study, Nunnally said, it was discovered the county wasn’t charging enough to the schools BRATS was servicing. Currently, seven schools — Escambia County, St. Patrick’s, Bayside Academy, UMS-Wright, St. Paul’s, St. Benedict and the Eastern Shore Bay Camp — all use the service. In the 2018 budget, the schools were charged about $150,000 but that will go up in the new BRATS budget to about $238,000.
Commissioners voted 3-1 for the new BRATS budget on Dec. 18 and the new rates for parents and schools will take effect in February. That’s a 59 percent hike across the board but four schools will see increases of 120 percent or more.
“The way we calculated them in the past, once the school kids got off the bus the clock stopped,” Nunnally said. “We were traveling long distances outside of the county and it takes a long time to get the buses back to the county, what I call ‘deadhead time.’ That ‘deadhead time’ needed to be calculated in to get the buses back to service the citizens of Baldwin County.”
Two parents asked the commission if they could wait until the end of the current school year before raising the fees to allow them time to adjust to the new rate.
“Giving 30 days’ notice today is going to give a hardship to some parents,” parent Jason Padgett said. “The rates you are told at the beginning of the year are what you budget by. Would the commission consider continuing those rates until the end of the year with the understanding that come May all the new rates would be in place?”
Nunnally said continuing with those rates for the rest of the school year would cost the county about $45,000. Commissioner Joe Davis seconded the motion by Commissioner Jeb Ball to approve the budget changes but eventually voted against it. He was concerned the 30-day notice was not enough time for schools and parents to adjust to the higher costs.
Federal Transportation Administration grants are administered by the Alabama Department of Transportation. Nunnally said some of the grants require the county to provide a 50 percent match and some require a 20 percent match.