The high cost of carrying students on buses has Palm Beach County School District transportation officials and board members pondering some possible changes, such as cutting back on after-school activity buses and charging some parents to send their kids on buses to magnet schools.
At a board workshop on transportation last week, School Board Member Jenny Prior Brown suggested looking into charging some parents to recover the district's cost of transporting their child to choice magnet programs far away from their homes.
Brown and School Board Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson both said they were interested in the idea, but only for parents whose children do not qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch. Typically low-income families qualify for reduced-price lunch, so the parents who do not qualify would make enough to pay the cost of busing their children across the county to magnet schools, Brown said.
"I'm not looking to make money off rich parents," Brown said. "We ought to at least explore the possibility of recovering our out-of-pocket costs."
Chief of Support Operations Joe Sanches said the school district is required to provide some forms of bus transportation, such as busing kids to their neighborhood schools if they live more than 2 miles from the school and busing children who change schools through the federal No Child Left Behind law. But Sanches said the district is not required to provide transportation to children who live outside a school's attendance boundary but want to ride a bus to attend that school's choice programs.
Transportation General Manager Pete DiDonato said legally the district could tell parents of children attending magnet programs such as the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts that they will have to take their own children to school. He estimated that as much as $4 million of the district's estimated $45 million transportation budget will go to busing kids to choice programs.
DiDonato said he would look into whether it was legal in Florida for the school district to charge some parents for the cost of non-required school transportation services. State Department of Education spokeswoman Jamie Mongiovi said state policy does not address the issue of charging for magnet school transportation .
Sanches suggested the board also consider saving money by eliminating after-school activity buses on Fridays when very few students ride. DiDonato said schools typically have at least two activity buses that take children home from things such as sports and band practice and after-school tutoring, a service the district is also not required by law to provide to students.
The district is already made a number of changes such as moving to a centralized routing system to cut costs. One change parents will see next year is that they will be asked to register that their child will need bus service and what bus stop they are likely to use before the start of school. Before, the district had to guess how many buses were needed at what stops based on how many students were attending a school and then adjusted based on head counts during the first few weeks, DiDonato said.