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Stakeholders voice opinions at Longmeadow school transportation forum

Date: 1/29/2015

LONGMEADOW – The School Department hosted a public forum on Jan. 21 to gather input from the community regarding several proposed ideas for changes to student transport, one of which could realize $100,000 to $150,000 savings for the district on an annual basis.

Superintendent of Schools Marie Doyle said district’s buses are not currently filled to capacity. The district is looking into the possibility of cutting one to two buses, which would account for the possible savings.

The School Committee recently formed the Transportation Subcommittee to study the district's current transportation practices and their effectiveness on both operation and financial levels, she said.  

After reviewing community input and the various proposals such as consolidating routes and placing middle school and high school students on the same bus, the subcommittee will make a recommendation to the School Committee at one of its future meetings, Doyle noted.

“As we’re looking at the budget, we’re trying to explore every avenue that we can to maximize usage of the dollars that we have,” she added.

The district utilizes six buses contracted through the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, Thomas Mazza, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said. Three buses are used by Longmeadow High School (LHS), two are utilized by METCO, one by Wolf Swamp Road Elementary School, and three at Glenbrook Middle School in the morning and two in the afternoon.

“Enrollment procedures have not changed over many years,” he added. “Students who qualify according to [Massachusetts] law, so students who are in grades K-6 who live more than two miles from school are provided a pass sometime in mid to late summer and then anybody who does not qualify by law and would be interested in paying the [annual $175 per student] fee can contact the business office either before school starts or during the first couple weeks of school.”

Mazza said each bus costs the district about $50,000 annually. For the 2014-2015 school year, the fee per student is $175. Those fees are placed into an account and during fiscal year 2015 the total collected fees amounted to $22,137. The district is subsidizing the remaining cost of approximately $200,000 out of its general fund operating budget for in-town student transportation.

“About 125 or 130 students are paying for this [bus] service,” he added. “So, it only covers a fraction of the total cost, not only one bus, but it doesn’t come close to the total cost that we incur to provide transportation. This revenue of $22,000 is in in-line. It’s been pretty constant over the last 3 or 4 years within a couple thousand dollars.”

School Committee Chair Janet Robinson presented three proposals, two of which included A and B sections. The first calls for providing services to the letter of the law. This would mean the district would transport students in grades K-6 who live greater than two miles from their school.

“That eliminates the need for two to three buses for the district and a savings of about $100,000 to $150,000 depending upon ridership,” she added. “And the length of the time for students on the bus would be shorter because obviously there are less students, less stops, less routes.”

The second proposal would include stops along the main roads only, which may require students to cross a main road to arrive at the bus stop, Robinson said. Ridership would also be combined with high school and middle school students.

“It would require changing the start times of the middle and high school to be coordinated,” she added. “Likely it would be that the middle school would move up, starting earlier than its current time or it may be a combination of moving the high school back a few minute in its start time, moving the middle school up in its start time.”

Proposal 2-B consists of main streets only as well but there would be both high school and middle school bus runs as it the format currently is now, Robinson said. This proposal does not eliminate any buses and there is no savings to the district. The length of time that student are on the bus would be similar to the existing format.

The third proposal would include a combination of main street and neighborhood street bus routes with a combined middle and high school ridership, she said. Expanded services would also be available for Williams Middle School.

“I know that one concern of many parents is placing middle school and high school students together,” Doyle said. “There are many districts that have combined K-8 on the same bus, middle school and high school on the same bus. In our experience we find out that most of the time the trouble comes from the little ones on the bus, not the older kids. They would be separated so that the younger kids are sitting at the front of the bus, the older kids on the back of the bus.”

Proposal 3-B calls for routes with a combination of main and neighborhood streets. There would be high school bus run, then a middle school bus run. Expanded services would also be available for Williams Middle School.

 Robinson said this proposal would require the district to utilize an additional bus with a cost increase of $50,000.

A survey of students was recently completed by bus drivers to gauge the number of students on each bus during the mornings and afternoons, she noted.

For the survey three buses were used. Bus 1 saw 11 to 22 students in the mornings and 11 to 18 in the afternoons. Bus 2 registered 17 to 23 students in the mornings and 7 to 14 in the afternoons. The Bus 3 driver counted 14 to 28 students in the mornings and 20 to 27 students in the afternoons. The averages were compiled during a period of months and averaged.

Doyle said currently “nothing is set in stone.” However, the registration period for signing up students to obtain bus services for next year will be most definitely be required to be completed before the end of the current school year.

Bus services to and from the Jewish Community Center of Springfield and the Greenwood Children’s Center in Longmeadow would also most likely not be covered by the district, she added. Both these groups would need to provide their own busing.