The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 5, 2009

Carlisle School steers towards 6 buses

Dropping two routes would save $100,000

In a cost-saving move that has some parents concerned about where their child’s bus stop will be next fall, the Carlisle School is considering dropping the number of buses from eight to six for the 2009 – 2010 school year. Superintendent Marie Doyle held two round-table meetings for parents on May 27 to discuss the changes. In a follow up email on June 1, Doyle said, “Based on the input from our study as well as the feedback from parents at the two meetings held last Wednesday, I am recommending to School Committee that we reduce the number of buses from eight to six for the next school year.”

The bus meeting held in the morning was attended by over 20 parents, while fewer came to the evening meeting. “We felt it was very important to have your input,” Doyle told the parents. Each bus costs approximately $50,000, she said, so by eliminating two buses the school saves $100,000. She pointed out that the biggest change it would bring is that students would be picked up at common bus stops instead of at the end of their driveways. Some students living on busy roads such as Westford Street will be still picked up at their driveways. Most parents attending the meeting expressed support of the plan.

By law, only students who live beyond two miles from school must be provided with transportation. Students in seventh and eighth grade also do not have to be transported. Approximately two-thirds of Carlisle students live within two miles of school or are seventh and eighth graders.

Bus cuts in response to economy, drop in enrollment

The idea to decrease the number of buses was spurred by the economy, Doyle explained, as well as a decrease in the school population. The school has used eight buses since 2000, when the enrollment was 852 students. The projected enrollment for next fall is 702 students, a drop of 150 students. Doyle said that if school enrollment increases, a bus can be added.

Research was done in October and November of last year to determine whether six buses would be able to handle the load. Parent volunteers Pat Simon, Mary Beth Stevenson, Nicole Bloomfield and Mary Storrs worked with former Carlisle School Business Manager, Heidi Zimmerman, and Doyle in evaluating bus routes. Bus drivers were asked to count the number of elementary and middle school students taking the buses in the morning and evening. Added to the calculations was the number of middle school students who stay for after-school activities and take the elementary bus home.

“Some buses now run less than half full,” Doyle said, and the bus loads are unbalanced. Their research showed that five middle school morning buses out of the eight pick up fewer than 20 students. Middle school students use the morning bus 50% of the time and the afternoon bus 40%, while the elementary students have a higher usage: 65% ride the morning bus and 57% ride the afternoon bus. The middle school totals include all middle school students, including students who do not pay the 7th and 8th grade bus fee and therefore do not ride the buses.

Buses can hold 71 students, Doyle said, if students are placed three to a seat. Parents expressed skepticism about having three middle school students per seat. If the usage trend continues most buses would have two students per seat, Doyle explained. One parent said the behavior on the buses may degrade with so many students on each bus. “I don’t want my son sitting three in a seat. I don’t think three in a seat is safe.”

Parents two biggest concerns were the time students would spend on the buses (most will spend over 35 minutes) and the distance students would need to walk to get to bus stops. “We are trying to encourage kids to walk a little further for a little exercise,” said Doyle. One parent noted there is a problem with snow banks crowding the roads in the winter. One of the new bus stops, at Brook Street and East Riding, is dangerous, she said. Cars coming around the corner barely see the high school students waiting in the street (there is no off-street spot in which to wait).

Another parent, worried about walking down Baldwin Road, wondered if parents could look at the routes and choose a different bus stop. Adding students to a bus could be problematic, Doyle said.

Doyle encouraged parents to email about unsafe streets and bus stops. A draft of the new bus routes was included with Doyle’s June 1 email, with a request that parents review the routes and “send any questions or concerns that you may have to Claire Wilcox (cwilcox@carlisle.k12.ma.us) by June 5.” ∆


© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito