By Wyatt Goolsby
HOBBS, NM - New Mexico school districts are tightening their belts, slashing programs and jobs where they can. Now, a lack of funding from the state means school bus drivers are feeling the pinch. Bus contractors in Hobbs told NewsWest 9 they're trying to do more with less, but it isn't that easy.
"We've had to look at every facet of our operation, trying to figure out where we can cut cost, figure out what we can do. You tighten up as much as you possibly can," Mike Whitehead, owner of B & G Transportation, who contracts with Hobbs Municipal Schools, explained.
School districts and bus contractors are all being forced to tighten their belts. This month, officials with Hobbs Municipal Schools have been taking a closer look at their budget. While the money for the next school year is not set, it looks like some school bus routes will likely be off track.
"Hopefully, we can work with the district here on maybe changing some bell schedules," Whitehead said. "Maybe going to a three tier system instead of a two tier system. I'm hoping that will work and maybe some Special Needs transportation adjustments to help us in that area."
Whitehead explained that while maintenance costs and driving salaries have gone up, their budget has been gradually cut every year. They are now working with over $200,000 less than they were four years ago. For drivers, that means more miles and more time spent on the road.
"A lot of the buses going to multiple schools. That's probably one of the changes that I've seen," Bill Braun, a bus driver who provides service for Special Needs students, explained. "It's not uncommon for a Special Needs bus to go to five or six schools in one day. So, you have to be there on time, to all the different schools, and that seems to be growing."
"Since the budget cuts, I've added another route to my bus, and it's kind of stressful," Carolyn Jones, another Hobbs bus driver, explained. "When they first gave it to me, I thought there is no way in the world I am going to be able to do this. It's worked out, but it's kind of stressful."
Both Jones and Braun said over the years they've seen more and more students riding with less drivers. Many in town hope lawmakers will find a way to get more funding. In the meantime, everyone is trying to get by as best they can.
"What is going to happen? Well, we don't know what's going to happen," Braun said. "As they decrease the routes, the fact is you still have to get the kids to school on time. That's not negotiable."
"It doesn't really bother me because throughout the years, they've added more to my route every so often and it always stress me and said I'm not going to be able to do it but I've always been able to do it. So, it just really doesn't bother me," Jones said.
Hobbs school officials will continue to sort through the budget this week. It's still not set in stone how much money will be cut and from what programs. Officials told NewsWest 9 they will be presenting a final budget to the school board in May.