There was one clear determination made from Tuesday’s Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting — don’t toot your horn at the Pitman Pride Marching Band parents and boosters.
More than 30 band parents and student crowded the Professional Development Center voicing their stern opposition to the TUSD transportation policy in regards to how Boosters pay for transportation to band reviews and band activities in cities across California.
During recent trips to band reviews in Elk Grove and Santa Cruz, parents said the district forced them to use TUSD school buses, even though they claim they found charter buses at cheaper prices, with more storage, on-board bathrooms and comfortable seating.
“We are trying to get transportation to band reviews, but due to TUSD policy we have to use their buses, which are more expensive, do not have enough storage and do not have bathrooms,” said George Somers, a band parent, teacher and member of the boosters.
Somers explained that during trips out of town individual booster parents often volunteer to pull trailers because TUSD buses lack the storage capacity for all 160 of the Marching Pride equipment and instruments.
Numerous parents say the current policy fails to put the needs of the students first.
However, the TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto and several of the board members pointed out that while on the surface the policy may not make sense, there is much more involved.
“(TUSD) must honor our contract with CSEA (California School Employee Association) and while the money for the transportation is coming from boosters it is still a school activity,” said Da Marto. “The other aspect to this is the district’s liability.”
When boosters hire charter buses for transportation they must ensure the company and driver are in good standing with California Highway Patrol and state law so students can be transported safely and legally.
“We did our own research into these companies and trust me, we are parents and these are our kids, safety comes first and then money,” said Booster President Lori Denego.
Both the parents, trustees and Da Marto reached an agreement that while labor contracts should be honored, there is existing language in the current contract that allows TUSD to use charter buses to transport students during extensive trips or for unique situations like the need for more storage.
TUSD staff will look at the language and return to the Board of Trustees to make a determination if boosters can use charter buses for band activities.
According to TUSD staff reports, about 20 percent of the bus budget is used for field trips. The Marching Pride only go on about three to four band reviews per year.
Trustee Frank Lima says the Marching Pride should be considered a “unique situation,” and thusly parents should not have to use TUSD buses if it is determined the language allows for them to use alternate means of transportation .
On average the Pitman Marching Band Boosters raise between $30,000 to $40,000 a year and two-thirds of that cost goes to paying for transportation to and from band reviews.
While at a band review in Santa Cruz last weekend, the Marching Pride missed placing by .05 points.
“I wonder if there were bathrooms on that bus, if that had been enough to place?” said Somers.
Boosters pointed out that the money they save by using a charter bus could be used to buy more band uniforms, equipment, and to repair instruments.
Another issue the band parents had was that when the students get on the bus for band reviews they often leave at early hours of the morning, sometimes as early as 5 a.m., and return late into the evening at 8 p.m. However the lights at Pitman are shut off and parents have to use lights from their cell phones to help the kids load up their equipment.