At 6:20 a.m., school bus driver Pat Krzysko slides behind the wheel of a modified 1977 Ford Econoline van and heads out on her first run of the day.
"The one thing I hate about this job is getting up before the chickens," says Krzysko, a driver for the Ocean View Elementary School District in Oxnard.
Every weekday morning, Krzysko is the first of the district's 12 drivers out of the bus yard on Etting Road. To reach her first stop, Krzysko will travel 16 miles south on Pacific Coast Highway, then another six miles up a winding two-lane road in Little Sycamore Canyon near the Los Angeles County line.
By day's end, she will have made the same trip back and forth three times, covering more than 130 miles. All of this for just seven passengers.
"It's part of being a rural district," said Supt. Donald Hodes. "We happen to be in a very unusual situation in Ocean View because of our geographic layout."
While Ocean View is not physically as large as other county districts--covering 80 square miles, compared to the 380-square-mile Ventura school district, for example--its transportation system extends farther than all the others.
What's more, 75% to 80% of the district's 2,400 students are bus riders, a higher proportion than in most other districts in the county.
Reaching some of them is anything but easy. Krzysko's bus route, at 22 miles one way, is the longest in the county. It is also one of the most scenic, with sunrise views of the Pacific and the equally stunning landscape of Little Sycamore Canyon.
"I like it because there are a lot of open spaces," said 8-year-old Trevor Wilson, one of Krzysko's seven passengers. "It's not like the city."
Trevor said his favorite part of the bus ride is on the highway along the ocean.
"Sometimes you see dolphins," he said.
Ocean views aside, Ocean View bus drivers are not exactly fighting to take over Krzysko's route.
The drive through the canyon is one reason. The bumpy six-mile drive up Yerba Buena Road is one long, nauseating series of twists and turns, snaking around rocky canyon walls. A reporter and photographer who recently went along for the ride got motion sickness.
"I used to get sick," said 9-year-old Israel Medina, one of Krzysko's passengers. "But I got used to it."
Passenger Erin Morgan, 7, is not bothered by the winding road, nor is she impressed with the beauty of the rolling hills as they slip past her window. The 45-minute drive is too long, she said.
"I just fall asleep," Erin said.
Hodes said that nearly two dozen students live so far up in the hills at the edge of the district's boundaries that they attend school in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District because it is closer.
"Some of them have parents who work in the Santa Monica area, and it is easier for them to take their kids to school," Hodes said.
The superintendent said it costs Ocean View about $400,000 a year to operate its bus system, with more than $100,000 coming out of the district's general fund and the rest from state subsidies.
Glenn Ellis, the district's transportation director, said he did not know how much of the annual operating costs go toward Krzysko's route or what the cost is for each of the seven students.
District officials said they would prefer to take the money now spent on transportation and use it in the classroom, as would other struggling districts.
Last fall, the Conejo Valley Unified School District began charging students for home-to-school transportation. Pleasant Valley, Simi Valley and Moorpark school districts are considering doing the same.
But Hodes said this is not an option for Ocean View because more than half of the district's bus riders are sons and daughters of field workers or low-income Navy personnel.
"We can't charge for transportation," he said. "That would be like taking money from the poor to pay for the poor. And many of them would qualify for free transportation anyway."
The situation is similar in Fillmore, Rio, Somis and Mesa school districts, which all have high percentages of students from low-income families. In fact, Somis and Mesa schools began sharing transportation services two years ago to help cut costs.
Ocean View officials are now talking with administrators from surrounding school systems about combining a wide range of services, including transportation. But Hodes said sharing bus services might be impossible because of the large area covered by the district and its odd bus routes.
Or maybe not. Hodes was surprised to learn last week that Krzysko is already transporting a student to Channel Islands High School in the neighboring Oxnard Union High School District.
Rene Rodriguez, 14, who lives in Little Sycamore Canyon, has been riding Krzysko's bus for nine years, longer than any other student.
"That's great," Hodes said. "I've got to send them a bill."