program encourages kids to ride
to school — but budget cuts loom.
(Photos © J. Maus)
The City of Portland’s Safer Routes to Schools program is facing a steep drop in its funding for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
In the past two years (Portland’s fiscal year goes from July 1 to June 30) the Safer Routes to Schools program has had a budget of $850,000 and $840,000 respectively. According to the program manager at PBOT’s Transportation Options division Linda Ginenthal, a sizable chunk of that budget — $250,000 — came from the city’s General Fund in the form of “one-time funds” (PBOT-speak for allocations taken from a surplus in the city’s budget).
However, with the city’s budget now in a tailspin, those one-time funds are no longer available. That means, along with other cuts, the city’s Safer Routes to Schools program has a projected 2009-2010 budget of just $520,000 — a 40% dip from current levels.
Recently, when Mayor Sam Adams asked city bureaus to wring out their budgets, the Bureau of Transportation decided to cut another $10,000 from Safer Routes. According to PBOT documents, this cut “means approximately $7,000 in new bicycles will not be purchased or distributed to school children, and $3,000 in other marketing incentives will not be purchased, such as bike bells and flashlights.”
“The more dire equation is that next year we might have to cut back our staff by about 10%. That’s a big deal.”
— Linda Ginenthal, PBOT Transportation Options Program Manager
Ginenthal confirmed these cuts and said they will impact the program immediately. “The more dire equation,” she added “is that next year we might have to cut our paid staff time by about 10%. That’s a big deal.”
To make the money and staff stretch further, Ginenthal says she is “scrambling to find resources” and leaving no stone unturned. Besides looking for creative funding opportunities, she said they’re also considering using staff only on a seasonal basis. Like teachers, staff would be let go during the summer and possibly during December.
The city of Portland’s Safer Routes to Schools program is primarily funded through the city’s Community and Schools Traffic Safety Partnership (CSTSP). The CSTSP was established by the state legislature in 2003 and is funded through traffic fine revenue. Because the program reduces the number of car trips made to school, it also receives funding through the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program.
(The federal government also funds Safe Routes to Schools through the SAFETEA-LU Transportation Bill, but that money goes toward facilities and engineering and is not used for operational and educational programs.)
Currently in Portland, all elementary schools are offered at least some of the Safer Routes program. 25 schools get the full, “Five E” program which includes encouragement activities, the SmartTrips to School program, engineering reports (and some improvements), targeted enforcement campaigns around the school, and more. An additional 46 schools get a pared down version of the program and all schools are eligible for a variety of educational materials and event partnerships with the city.
Current city staff devoted to the program includes Ginenthal along with part-time assistance from two other PBOT employees. The Safer Routes also currently has three full-time staffers.
If their budget remains at $520,000 for next year, here are the cuts Ginenthal says they would be forced to make:
- Eliminate the SmartTrips to School program
- Significantly reduce the encouragement activities in the 25 schools
- Eliminate the SR2S Newsletter
- Eliminate significant incentives purchases for encouragement activities (like new bicycles, bells, etc…)
- Eliminates any engineering planning and report prioritization
Ginenthal says that, “These cuts represent real cuts to contracts and to City staff as well as reduced printing and purchases and other professional services.”
The non-profit Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is the main contractor the city uses to deliver much of their Safer Routes to School services. Ginenthal says they are “looking at a significant cut” in their contract with the BTA.
Michelle Poyourow of the BTA told me on the phone this morning that the $250,000 cut is “a lot of our contract” and that “we would definitely lose some staff”. However, Poyourow added that the bigger issue for her is that Safe Routes has been a very successful program. “Cutting their budget right when they’re hitting their stride seems unwise.”
Poyourow said she understands PBOT is in a budget crisis, but that given new revenue increases slated for the coming fiscal year (from increased parking and meter fees), she feels that money should be spent on successful, proven programs.
To rally the community, the BTA plans to send out an action alert to their members encouraging them to contact Mayor Adams’ office. They also plan to organize some rallies around the monthly Kidical Mass event and hope to get people to show up and speak up for Safe Routes funding at the upcoming Community Budget Forums.
Despite the gloomy outlook, Ginenthal seems determined to keep the program going strong. “I and our Options team is very focused on finding ways to increase revenues for this program and we are hoping that we can restore some of these cuts through working with our partners, submitting grants, and any other creative option we can locate.”
Portland, a recognized national leader in Safe Routes to Schools is set to host the 2009 Safe Routes to Schools National Conference this August.