Hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District students returned to class Tuesday, adding some extra traffic to the morning rush hour and putting more kids on Southland sidewalks heading to and from campuses.

Los Angeles School Police officials urged commuters to give themselves extra time now that classes are back in session and to be extra vigilant and watch for kids — particularly in school zones.

Mayor Eric Garcetti spent the first morning of school riding a DASH bus with a group of students and parents, touting the fact that LAUSD students can ride the buses at no cost.

DASH buses are “now free for any student from LAUSD all the way up to community college here in Los Angeles,” Garcetti said. “You can ride DASH buses for free, help save some money for the family, get to and from school — and more and more of them are electric buses, so you can also help the environment.”

The school year began with far less political tension than last year, when contract talks between the district and the teachers’ union were faltering and the threat of an educators’ strike was looming. That strike became a reality as teachers walked picket lines for six days in January, the district’s first teacher strike in 30 years.

No such labor issue loomed over the first day of school Tuesday, and Superintendent Austin Beutner last week put a positive face on advancements being made in the nation’s second-largest school district. Beutner’s State of the Schools address included extensive boasting about an improving graduation rate, decreases in absences and student suspensions and record high numbers of students taking college-placement tests.

But Beutner conceded the district has a lot of work to do in terms of finances, citing a continued lack of funding for public education. LAUSD voters in June rejected a proposed parcel tax that was envisioned to raise $500 million a year for the district for 12 years.

Beutner told reporters voters can expect to see another funding measure, possibly next year. He noted in his speech: “There’s no circumstance where cuts alone will provide the money to adequately fund schools … ”

But he said the district needs to build trust in the community if it hopes to win public support of a funding measure.

“We have to work ahead to build trust and we have to start with more transparency in all we do,” Beutner said.

He said everyone in Los Angeles “is impacted by the work we do and Los Angeles Unified needs everyone engaged in, and supporting, public education.”

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