The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 24, 2008

More Carlisle students may face bus fee

The Carlisle School is considering charging bus fees for students living within two miles of the school. Faced with rising costs in the coming three years the school is also considering cutting the number of buses by having three elementary students per bus seat. Approximately 16 parents attended two informational meetings held on October 21 to brainstorm school bus transportation changes. Superintendent Marie Doyle also said she would like to encourage other parents to contact her to discuss the proposed changes.

Doyle explained that each bus costs around $60,000 per year. The school uses eight buses, with two runs in the morning and two runs in the evening for each bus. Middle school students are picked up first, then the same buses transport the elementary students an hour later.

The school would like to begin collecting bus fees in May to help plan bus routes. Another area being examined is the use of the afternoon elementary bus by middle school students, with the idea to possibly impose a small fee for its use. The school is also exploring the use of bus stops away from homes, similar to the high school. This may eliminate having buses drive down dead-end roads.

Carlisle School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman estimates the new bus contract will cost approximately $480,000 per year. By eliminating one bus the school would save $60,000, but, she pointed out, this would get the cost down to the current level of around $409,000. Zimmerman said she is looking into buying bus routing software which may help make the runs more efficient.

By law the school must transport K – 6 students who are further than two miles from school. Currently seventh and eighth grade students pay $395 for the first student per family, and half the charge for additional children. Zimmerman estimates a 70% participation rate. One parent lamented, “You’re telling me my child will be on the bus with three children to a seat, I’ll have to drive her to a bus stop, she’ll have a longer trip and I’ll still have to pay a fee?”

One parent pointed out the bus routes are “highly inefficient.” Another agreed, saying buses go “from Billerica to Chelmsford, picking up the left-overs.” A parent said in 2002 she and others worked on improving the bus routes, recommending changes to routes to eliminate one bus. They were told by the school administration at that time that the bus drivers do not like to drive new routes, she said, so no changes were made. The same routes that were used in 2000 for over 800 students are still used today for approximately 720 students. Zimmerman said she reviews each route and makes changes according to where students live.

In 2000 a $50 bus fee was imposed on families living within the two-mile radius as well as all seventh and eighth graders. At that time there were complaints that the fee was unfairly focused on one group of families, while always sparing others. Additionally, the Carlisle Finance Committee was concerned that the school used fees rather than cutting costs to remain within their budget (see “Bus fees ignite FinCom-school committee debate” October 27, 2000).

If a circle were drawn in a two-mile radius around the school it appears approximately two-thirds of the Carlisle School families would be paying fees. Zimmerman estimates around 469 students out of approximately 700 students would be charged a fee. No discussion was held on discounts for multiple students in a family. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito