The proposed budget cut, which could save the district about $1 million and includes doing away with transportation for the Boys and Girls Club, is one of 13 potential cuts the school board learned about last month.
The board will have to work with an $86.4 million shortfall for fiscal year 2014, and its next budget meeting is today at 1 p.m.
“I’m frustrated they would even consider this cut because it feels like they are not only neglecting the magnet students, but it’s almost like they don’t even want to continue it,” said 15-year-old Riley O’Neill.
She is one of 180 freshman and 438 students in all who are enrolled in the North Cobb High School International Studies Magnet program. She learned about the possible cut in a newsletter from the program’s coordinator.
“If these buses are canceled, it’s going to jeopardize my education,” she said.
O’Neill’s bus picks up her and about 30 other students in the Publix parking lot off East Piedmont and Roswell roads at 7 a.m. every morning.
The commute is about 45 minutes for O’Neill, and she is one of 119 students who is taken by bus to North Cobb for the magnet program.
It’s free to families, but if push came to shove and the district were to charge, Riley’s mother, Cindy O’Neill, said she would pay for it.
“But I know that other students may not be able to do that,” Riley said.
Her mother is a teacher in Buckhead and depends on the bus service.
“It’s just totally disheartening that we’ve reworked our lives for this,” O’Neill said. “I’m really disappointed that this is even a possibility. Without the transportation, most kids couldn’t even attend the program.”
The single mother said her daughter applied to the North Cobb program because it offers a great alternative to kids who want to “pursue academics in a different way.”
“This program has really turned around the way I feel about Cobb County Schools in a lot of ways, and if this got canceled, I’m concerned about what we would do for high school,” she said.
The family turned down Riley’s acceptance into a private school to attend North Cobb.
“We have talked up the program to several people … the whole process has been amazing,” she said. “The things they have accomplished just blow my mind away.”
Board hears concerns
In an attempt to have their frustrations heard, both the mother and daughter emailed every school board member, and Riley also asked each of her classmates to do the same.
The freshman plans to address the school board at an upcoming meeting.
Two board members she’s heard from are north Cobb’s Kathleen Angelucci and Vice Chair Brad Wheeler.
Angelucci says she understands why this cut was presented, but she does not support it and is confident the board will find a way to continue to provide bus service because she believes the students deserve it.
“It would decimate the programs that have been cultivated throughout the district for students with exceptional potential that allows them to extend their competencies beyond the usual scope of high school … to eliminate transportation is unthinkable,” she said. “Why ask taxpayers to fund building new facilities and provide technology if we are going to destroy the programs?”
Angelucci said that with rising costs for student transportation, including fuel costs, districts have had to supplement cuts in state funding with local dollars or limit bus services by reducing the number of bus stops and service areas where students are picked up and dropped off.
When she moved to Cobb in 1995, the state provided nearly 50 percent of total pupil transportation expenditures, and today the state provides less than 20 percent of total expenditures.
In 2011, local school systems earned $295 million in state funding for transportation. Now, that’s down to $133 million.
Wheeler said he’s received 20-plus similar emails from students.
“What I pretty much told (Riley) is that it’s a preliminary list and not set in stone,” he said.
Wheeler said that he appreciates the feedback from the community and when looking at budget woes, he’s hoping to protect the classroom and instructional time first and foremost.
The meeting, which is open to the public, will be at 1 p.m. today in the central office board room, 514 Glover St., in Marietta.