Walking School Bus program searches for funding

Monday, June 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
From left, Mayshonna Hutt, Megan Hayday, Chris Hayday, Maddie Hayday and Raelee Burse walk to Russell Boulevard Elementary School in April 2006. Chris Hayday used to walk with his children to school, which grew into him leading an organized group to the school. Hayday then joined with PedNet, which runs the Walking School Bus program. The program needs to find $75,000 to cover costs for the 2009-2010 school year.

COLUMBIA — A 4-year-old Columbia program that encourages an active and healthy lifestyle for children has reached a financial roadblock.

The Columbia Walking School Bus program, which recruits volunteer chaperones to help kids walk to school safely, is working to find the $75,000 needed for the 2009-2010 school year.


2009-2010 Walking School Bus Budget


  • Program Coordinator:  $40,000
  • Paid interns, program assistants, etc.:  $10,000
  • Payroll taxes, etc.:  $5,000

Services, equipment and supplies:

  • Volunteer background checks:  $3,000
  • Computer lease, cell phones, etc.: $3,000
  • Printing, postage, etc.: $4,000
  • Incentives (snacks, t-shirts, volunteer appreciation event, frequent-walker wristbands, etc.): $10,000


PedNet Membership Levels

  • Basic Membership (Free)
  • Individual Membership ($25): PedNet Premium Card
  • Family Membership ($40): Two PedNet Premium Cards
  • Silver Cycle Membership ($75): PedNet Premium Card and two tickets to the Restaurant Ramble & Roll
  • Golden Sneaker Membership ($100): PedNet Premium Card, two tickets to the Restaurant Ramble and Roll and two tickets to the Dessert and Coffee Reception

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The program is run by the PedNet Coalition, an organization that promotes walking, bicycling and wheelchair accessibility to improve public health and promote active living.

Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition, said the program has grown substantially over the years. This spring, 450 children and 120 volunteers at 11 elementary schools participated.

Despite its successful expansion, the program is having trouble finding the money to continue. In the past, the program has survived on grants, with the most recent award from GetAbout Columbia. That 18-month grant expired in April, and another contract from the federally funded program will not be issued this school year, Thomas said.

Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the Columbia Public Works Department, said they didn’t renew the $124,827 grant for the Walking School Bus this year because GetAbout Columbia has less funding now and wants programs that show an immediate shift from motor vehicles to bicycles by 2010.

The city wanted programs it could control itself after the GetAbout funding expires in 2010, and the Walking School Bus is a part of the PedNet Coalition, Stedem said.

Thomas said the $75,000 budget includes everything from the salaries of the program coordinator and interns to the cost of  volunteer background checks and snacks for the volunteers and children.

To obtain the amount needed, Thomas said there is an ongoing fundraising campaign with various opportunities for the community to donate, but no events will be held.

“We decided not to do events because our research shows that events are just a massive drain of time and energy and don’t really raise much money,” Thomas said.

Instead, they will be asking PedNet members to pay for their membership in exchange for perks, such as a PedNet premium card with discounts from local sponsors. Members who donate more will also receive tickets for a restaurant sampling and a dessert reception in September, depending on their membership level.

Thomas said new and old members can also decide to be basic members for free.

PedNet will also ask for small local grants to provide money or materials needed, in addition to appealing to wealthy members to see if they will make a major gift donation, Thomas said.

Thomas said the PedNet board even pledged to raise 10 percent of the budget needed itself, and it has almost accomplished that goal.

Margy Tonnies, program coordinator for the Walking School Bus program, said it also receives money from the state to host workshops. Members of the program visit communities around the state to provide information to those interested in starting their own Walking School Bus.

“In the workshops, we cover everything from how to start a program, develop relationships with the community, find and train volunteers, and design a safe route to school,” Tonnies said.

Thomas said regardless of how much money they raise, the program will continue.

“Some of us will have to volunteer our time to keep it going, and we may not be able to expand as much as we would like to, but we will find a way to make it happen,” he said.

Tonnies said the program has been very successful so far, which is why it needs to continue.

“We have had great responses from teachers, because the more active children are the better they are able to learn,” Tonnies said. “The kids also have a lot of fun since it’s like recess before school and an opportunity to be with friends.”

Thomas said the program is also a vital asset for a healthy and environmentallyconscious community like Columbia.

“Columbia is getting a growing national reputation as a community that values health and environmental issues,” Thomas said. “As we keep our program going, we continue to maintain Columbia’s reputation.”

In the end, Thomas said communities that continue programs like the Walking School Bus will be the ones that thrive.

“The communities that are gearing up for a more active living are the ones that are going to be successful in the future,” Thomas said.

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Ray Shapiro June 29, 2009 | 12:45 a.m.

A retired school administrator or other qualified volunteer coordinator and "gifts-in-kind" sponsorship for the incentive program would cut the budget down to a much more reasonable 20-25K.
(After all, it's only a walking program.)
Another alternative would be Columbia Public Schools or Parks and Rec could absorb taking responsibility for this program.
(I don't think it should be under the auspices of PedNet or GetAbout, anyway.)

(Report Comment)
Greg Collins June 29, 2009 | 7:22 a.m.

This city actually thinks it needs a $75k budget for this - complete with paid staff & interns? Another example of arbitrarily padding the payroll when parents or a responsible volunteer group could run it it for far less.

(Report Comment)
T C June 29, 2009 | 8:34 a.m.
This comment has been removed.
Justin O'Riley June 29, 2009 | 9:00 a.m.

$75K is absolutely rediculous, it seems like a great program but that budget is out of control.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 29, 2009 | 9:09 a.m.

>>> T C June 29, 2009 | 8:34 a.m.

That's didn't cost any money at all for me to walk to school when I was a kid. Now we need "coordinators"? What a joke....get the money from the ridiculous bike decal fund. <<<

Great idea get it from he GetAboutColumbia Grant money! Now why didn't they think of that?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 29, 2009 | 11:13 a.m.

@T C:
("That's didn't cost any money at all for me to walk to school when I was a kid. Now we need "coordinators"? What a joke....")
It's very, very funny.
Smart, caring parents should be able to arrange for "free" local neighborhood walking groups. This sounds like a job for the PTA.
(If you belong to the PTA, are other parents so suspicious of you that a background check is necessary? Does the PTA require a $40K Program Coordinator and paid interns? Does the PTA need to spend $10,000 to entice parents to take care of their own and help get their children to school?)
This $75,000 walking program is very, very funny, indeed, but oh so typical of wasteful spending and lazy, uninvolved parenting.

(Report Comment)
Thomas Green June 29, 2009 | 11:27 a.m.

>If you belong to the PTA, are other parents so suspicious of you that a background check is necessary?

I like the idea of PTA running this program, and I think if a volunteer wants to participate in the program and nothing to be guilty about would be willing to shell out some money for the criminal background check. A small grant, maybe of 40K to 50K would be ideal to split among all the schools to do advertisement and recruitment for more volunteers and promote healthy and environment-conscious alternatives to go to schools.

(Report Comment)

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