Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/20/2003 10:37 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 202(FIN)                                                                                               
     "An Act  relating to school transportation;  relating to                                                                   
     the  base student  allocation  used in  the formula  for                                                                   
     state funding of public education;  and providing for an                                                                   
     effective date."                                                                                                           
Co-Chair  Williams noted  that the bill  had been  previously                                                                   
discussed,  and  that public  testimony  had  closed.   There                                                                   
being   no  further   discussion,  the   committee  took   up                                                                   
Representative  Chenault  MOVED  to ADOPT  Amendment  #2  for                                                                   
discussion  purposes  only.  Amendment  2 would  require  the                                                                   
Department  of Education  and  Early Development  to  provide                                                                   
student transportation  services. He  maintained that  if the                                                                   
State provides  funds for the  program it ought  to negotiate                                                                   
the contracts.   He maintained  that the State ought  to take                                                                   
fiscal responsibility for the contracts.                                                                                        
Representative Chenault WITHDREW Amendment 2.                                                                                   
In response to a question by Co-Chair  Harris, Representative                                                                   
Chenault  stated  that  he  did   not  intend  to  offer  the                                                                   
amendment on the Floor.                                                                                                         
EDDY JEANS,  MANAGER, SCHOOL FINANCE AND  FACILITIES SECTION,                                                                   
DEPARTMENT  OF  EDUCATION AND  EARLY  DEVELOPMENT  maintained                                                                   
that  the  school  districts  are in  a  better  position  to                                                                   
negotiate the  contracts. He suggested  that one of  the main                                                                   
contributors to  the escalating cost  of the program  is that                                                                   
it operates  as a reimbursable  program, rather than  a grant                                                                   
program  with set  allocations.  He recommended  that if  the                                                                   
Department  becomes  the  negotiator  that it  be  given  the                                                                   
authority  to direct whether  districts  operate in house  or                                                                   
through contract, based on what  would be most efficient.  He                                                                   
clarified  that   the  legislation   would  not   allow  such                                                                   
flexibility.  The legislation would  create a grant  program,                                                                   
which is better than the current  reimbursable program. There                                                                   
is no incentive to negotiate a  contract under a reimbursable                                                                   
program.  He  speculated that under the grant  program, there                                                                   
would  be incentive  to negotiate  a  better contract,  since                                                                   
they could  keep any savings.   In response to a  question by                                                                   
Co-Chair Harris, Mr. Jeans maintained  that the program would                                                                   
give districts  incentives to  look at different  options for                                                                   
the quality of program.                                                                                                         
Co-Chair  Harris  expressed  concern   that  quality  not  be                                                                   
jeopardized in the pursuit of  savings.  Mr. Jeans noted that                                                                   
the  Department  would  still  oversee  safety,  and  minimum                                                                   
standards would still be adhered to.                                                                                            
Co-Chair Harris  asked if  all school  bus drivers  in Alaska                                                                   
receive double  the minimum wage.   Mr. Jeans  confirmed they                                                                   
were required by statute to be  paid double the minimum wage.                                                                   
Co-Chair Harris  asked how many  contracts in the  state were                                                                   
paying less than  this amount due to special  contract terms.                                                                   
Mr. Jeans  stated  that he did  not know  how many  contracts                                                                   
were in this situation.                                                                                                         
Co-Chair  Williams,  on behalf  of  Representative  Kerttula,                                                                   
MOVED  to  ADOPT Amendment  #1.    Amendment 1  would  change                                                                   
"2003" to "2004" on page 1 line  14. He OBJECTED for purposes                                                                   
of discussion.                                                                                                                  
Mr. Jeans  explained that  this amendment  would require  the                                                                   
Department to  calculate student  allocation based  on actual                                                                   
expenditures of  FY 04.  He  spoke against the  amendment and                                                                   
pointed  out  that  FY  03  was   fully  funded,  and  easily                                                                   
determined.   He  stated that  to require  the use  of FY  04                                                                   
would delay the implementation of the program.                                                                                  
Co-Chair Williams WITHDREW the amendment.                                                                                       
Vice-Chair  Meyer noted  that  inflation proofing  was at  50                                                                   
percent of the CPI [consumer price index].                                                                                      
LARRY  WIGET,  PUBLIC  AFFAIRS,   ANCHORAGE  SCHOOL  DISTRICT                                                                   
testified  in support  of  the legislation.  He  acknowledged                                                                   
that   the   legislation   would    cause   cuts   to   pupil                                                                   
transportation  within  the  Anchorage  School  District  and                                                                   
across  the  state,  but emphasized  the  importance  of  the                                                                   
transitional COLA [cost of living  adjustment]. He noted that                                                                   
most districts had fixed expenses  in out years, and the bill                                                                   
would  provide  a minimal  amount  of  additional  transition                                                                   
funding  as they  go  through contracts  in  the next  couple                                                                   
years.   He pointed out that  adequate funding was  a concern                                                                   
for all.                                                                                                                        
Vice-Chair  Meyer referred  transportation  of special  needs                                                                   
students, and  noted that  there may need  to be  some future                                                                   
adjustments  in  that  area0.    Mr.  Wiget  recognized  that                                                                   
transportation  of special education  students is  a concern.                                                                   
Transporting  an  intensive  needs  student  cost  $5  to  $8                                                                   
thousand  per  student  per  year;   versus  $500  for  other                                                                   
students.  He noted that at this  time, the districts did not                                                                   
have  a  better  way  to  address   special  needs  students'                                                                   
Representative Foster  MOVED to report CSSB 202  (FIN) out of                                                                   
Committee   with    individual   recommendations    and   the                                                                   
accompanying fiscal note. There  being NO OBJECTION it was so                                                                   
CSSB 202 (FIN) was REPORTED out of Committee with a "do                                                                         
pass" recommendation and two fiscal impact notes from the                                                                       
Department of Education and Early Development:  #1 and #3.                                                                      

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