Q: How is the cost of pupil transportation funded in Montana?
A: The state and county share "on-schedule costs" to provide funding for parent mileage contracts and a mileage reimbursement for bus routes. Additional funding is provided through a district transportation fund levy. The levy is non-voted.
Q: What costs can be paid using the transportation fund?
A: Any costs of running the school transportation program (i.e., getting kids to and from school) can be funded using the transportation fund. That could include, for example: --Purchase of buses --Building a bus barn or other transportation facility --Maintenance of district owned buses --Conversion or remodeling of buses (or could use bus depreciation fund instead) --Salaries/benefits for: bus drivers mechanics bus aides crosswalk guards Staff involved in transportation, proportional to the amount of their time spent on transportation issues such as the clerk, supt., secretaries, etc. [Note: Must have a cost allocation plan, and be consistent!!!] --Costs of contracted bus services --Fuel --Bus driver training --Bus driver physicals required for certification --Drug testing
Q: What costs cannot be charged to the transportation fund?
A: Costs of field trips, activities and athletics transportation cannot be charged to the transportation fund. Only costs of getting kids to school and back home can be charged.
Q: Can a school district build a bus barn using the transportation fund?
A: Yes, you can use the transportation fund for building a bus barn. In fact, any costs of the transportation program (i.e., getting kids from home to school and back) are legitimate costs in that fund. Building a bus barn and maintaining it are often necessary parts of a transportation program.
Q: How can a bus barn facility be funded?
A: The transportation fund may levy to build a bus barn, or the school can sell bonds or propose a building reserve levy to the electors. General fund money can be used, but this may not be practical because the law strictly limits general fund budgets.
Q: Can a school district use the transportation fund to pay a portion of the clerk's salary, the superintendent's salary, etc.?
A: Yes, but be aware that it significantly complicates the accounting and budgeting processes. If salaries are charged to transportation, you must be able to demonstrate that the cost allocation is valid. That is, if the clerk spends 2% of his or her time on transportation issues, it would not be appropriate to charge 50% of the clerk's salary to the program. To allocate salaries to transportation, you should: 1) Have a method of tracking and documenting time and effort spent on the program, 2) Have the allocation officially approved by the trustees, and 3) Apply the method consistently from year to year. Having those things in place will provide an auditor the documentation needed to see the allocation is appropriate.
Q: Can you use the Transportation Fund to pay costs of travel for activities, athletics or field trips?
A: No. The Transportation Fund is only for costs associated with transporting kids to and from school. Costs of fuel, salaries and benefits, maintenance, and additional insurance that are not directly related to the pupil transportation program (i.e., to and from school) must not be charged to the Transportation Fund.
Q: What fund(s) can pay the costs of travel for activities, athletics, or field trips?
A: The General Fund, Impact Aid Fund, and Extracurricular Fund can pick up the costs. Field trips are considered instructional and should normally be charged to the General Fund.
Q: Can the Transportation Fund pay for teachers' travel, such as mileage to conferences, costs of running the school's car or van, or travel between schools to provide services?
A: No. Unless it's a cost of transporting students to and from school, the law's stated purpose for the fund doesn't cover it.
Q: Can a school district purchase a bus using the transportation fund?
A: The transportation fund can buy a route bus (i.e., a yellow school bus that meets the state bus standards). The fund cannot buy a bus for athletics and activities, unless that bus is also a yellow school bus and is used on routes for transporting students to and from school. The fund cannot purchase non-bus vehicles, such as vans. An exception may be appropriate if vehicles are used exclusively for a large transportation program, such as a vehicle used by staff to transport themselves, machine parts, etc., over a large bus-storage property while doing bus maintenance activities. Otherwise, vehicles for staff and student travel are not allowable purchases from the transportation fund; such vehicles must be purchased using general fund, extracurricular fund, or Impact Aid Fund instead.
Q: Can I build a bus barn using the transportation fund? If so, where's the money come from?
A: Yes, you can use the transportation fund for building a bus barn. In fact, any costs of the transportation program (i.e., getting kids from home to school and back) are legitimate costs in that fund. Building a bus barn and maintaining it are often necessary parts of a transportation program. The funding has to come from local taxpayers. In the transportation fund, a school district gets some transportation aid from the state and county based on mileage contracts with parents and bus routes. A school district can levy for the rest of the money needed to fund the transportation program. No vote is needed. You could also do a bond issue or building reserve election to build a bus barn, or build it using general fund money. Those options are usually not as convenient.
Q: If I have a bus depreciation fund (a.k.a. bus replacement fund), can I replace a bus using transportation funds, anyway? That way, I can save the bus depreciation fund money and maybe the taxpayers will approve the transfer of that money to another fund.
A: Although there is nothing that specifically prohibits that, it would not be good policy to purposefully tax for a bus purchase in the transportation fund if taxpayers are already being taxed for bus replacement in the bus depreciation fund. Using a combination of bus depreciation and transportation funds is fine when a bus needs to be replaced and there's not enough accumulated in bus depreciation to buy it. Remember, bus depreciation funds can be used to buy an additional bus only if it is a yellow school bus.
OPI Contact: Donell Rosenthal at (406) 444-3024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
8th of March, 2012