Transportation subcommittee looks for cost savings

Westborough – With school district deficit estimates for fiscal year 2011 between $1.7 million and $2.5 million, the School Committee recently formed a transportation subcommittee to look at ways the district could save money in its daily busing of kids to and from town schools.

    The transportation subcommittee has met four times and will meet several more times before bringing its findings and recommendations to the School Committee at a December meeting.

    The nine-member subcommittee consists of School Committee Chair Karen Henderson and Vice Chair Ilyse Levine-Kanji; Director of Business and Administration Dan Hendricks; Transportation Coordinator Cindy Crowley; Gibbons Middle School Assistant Principal Christopher Fournier; Mill Pond School Assistant Principal Jeff Slomski; School Resource Officer Chip Dapolite; and parents Amanda Priest and Lynn Oswill.

    Among the avenues the subcommittee is looking at are eliminating bus routes, combining and reconfiguring bus stops, and eliminating providing a late bus for students who stay after school for extra help or extracurricular activities.

    Among the avenues the subcommittee is looking at to raise funds and lower the transportation line item in the annual school budget are a bus fee and a parking fee for students who drive themselves and their friends to the High School.

    The possibility of implementing a bus fee is by far the hottest of the hot-button issues surrounding this topic.

    “The entire subject of transportation is a controversial one,” Levine-Kanji said. “As a school district we are not legally mandated to provide bus service; it’s a service we provide to the residents of the town. And, it’s a service we want to continue to provide, but we have to look at the cost savings having a bus fee would provide to other areas of the budget. I think everyone in town knows we were forced to cut 28 positions last year.”

    Hendricks said the district is also taking a long look at reducing the number of buses the town uses and the number of bus routes the remaining buses will be responsible for.

    “Every bus we can eliminate is a savings of between $40,000 and $50,000, which is, roughly one teaching position,” Hendricks said. “But we have to be careful when we look at consolidating routes and stops and eliminating buses that we continue to maintain the safety of the children walking to the bus stops, waiting for and, ultimately, riding the bus.”

    Hendricks said the subcommittee is taking a long look at consolidating bus stops and making more corner stops, but safety is a concern, both because of the high volume of morning and afternoon traffic and the number of areas in town without sidewalks.

    Levine-Kanji acknowledged that consolidating bus routes and bus stops may be a feasible solution to consider, but it will mean children will be on the bus longer.

    “Less routes and less buses mean longer bus rides for the kids,” Levine-Kanji said. “It’s a possibility, but having the kids on the buses longer will have to be weighed against the cost savings.”


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