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School Transportation Fee Being Considered

The school committee began discussing the idea Wednesday night.

The Westborough School Committee is considering charging a transportation fee next year to students in grades seven through 12, and to students in Kindergarten to grade six residing less than two miles from school.

The move would help fund next year's school budget while reducing Westborough's share of school officials' request.

"The choice here is either we supply only the busing that we're obligated to supply, or we supply the busing as we do and we charge a fee for it," Vice Chairman Stephen Doret said during Wednesday night's discussion.

The school committee will discuss the topic again next Wednesday night. The board will vote on a budget request Dec. 19, when its 6:30 p.m. budget public hearing is scheduled.

Last week, School Superintendent Marianne O'Connor recommended a $42,799,208 school budget for next year, a 3.67 percent increase. Wednesday night, O'Connor recommended reducing that proposal by about $105,000 by cutting two requested positions: reinstating a full-time reading teacher at the Mill Pond School, and a .5 strings position eyed for reinstatement due to enrollment.

School districts cannot charge a transportation fee to students in Kindergarten to grade six residing more than two miles from school, Chairman Ilyse Levine-Kanji said.

Westborough does not charge for school transportation at all.

Several neighboring communities do, though, according to a survey Tuesday by the school administration.

  • Ashland charges $280 per student, with a $560 family cap, to all students living less than two miles from school. 
  • Grafton charges $200 per student in grades seven to 12, with a $400 family cap, and a payment plan offered. Grafton High School students are charged a $200 parking fee.  
  • Hopkinton charges $210 per student, with a $420 family cap, and a $50 late fee, and a waiting list for seats, to students in grades seven to 12, and students in Kindergarten to grade six residing less than two miles from school. 
  • Shrewsbury charges $250 per student, with a $500 family cap, and a $50 late fee per child, with a $100 family cap, to students in grades seven to 12, and students in Kindergarten to grade six residing less than two miles from school.
  • The Northborough/Southborough regional schools can't charge for transportation because they receive regional transportation funding. However, high school students pay a $100 parking fee per semester.

Levine-Kanji said she hoped school officials could "explain to people why it's important to pay the fee" rather than drive their children to the schools, which often aren't set up for that.

School board member Nicole Sullivan said Westborough is among the few school districts without a transportation fee.

"I think parents want more. I don't think parents want less. And I think in order to do that, they have to pitch in," she said.

Levine-Kanji said the Westborough public schools spend more than $1 million on special education transportation "about half of our total."

And "special ed students who ride a special ed van cannot be charged a transportation fee because we're legally required to provide transportation," she said.

 

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Carol Waite December 06, 2012 at 08:38 PM
You should not have to pay to transport children to a place they have to go. Yes as Paula said we used to have children within a mile walk, we changed that because the town could not clear the sidewalks of snow quick enough and we had more snow days. Secondly we would need more crossing guards to be hired back. Thirdly how does one walk to Mill Pond School! I agree with the comment above the number of people who drive their kids to school will then make traffic on the roads more difficult for everyone.
TBH December 06, 2012 at 10:56 PM
I don't see how you can charge for K-6 students. As mentioned above, there is no safe way to walk to Mill Pond and young students are not going to walk to any school unaccompanied. No matter how convincing the argument to pay up and take the bus, people will follow their wallet and drive their kids, creating massive traffic problems spilling out into the streets, particularly at Armstrong/Gibbons. I doubt they will offer any partial service rates, allowing those who only want to use the service one way. You can't keep dipping into the well, charging families flat amounts for inequitable services, like what has happened with the activity fees. It sounds like this is going to be railroaded through before the end of the year...hopefully this will be more fully thought out before implementing for the sake of meeting the budget.
kelli silva December 07, 2012 at 02:26 AM
I recognize everyone's concerns mentioned above, but no one seems to be offering any other ideas of how to meet the school budget for next year. I don't want another fee either, it will cost me $400 next year for my two children who attend Fales, as we are within 2 miles of the school (with no sidewalks, just FYI), but isn't this a better option than losing more school employees, teachers, or special programs. Instead of pointing out the obvious negatives with this option, let's come up with some other ideas and attend town meeting to voice our concerns.
Paula Skog December 07, 2012 at 03:57 AM
From what I've read so far, I would support the fee for grades 7 through 12 as well as a parking fee. I would not like to see the fee for the lower grades. I'd be interested to hear how that would translate into dollar figures, if someone from the school committee might have those figures.
Paul Courchesne December 07, 2012 at 01:41 PM
I am very concerned about this for several reasons. The thought of opening up ANOTHER revenue stream to the schools scares me. It may be $200 now, but once it is in place it could easily become a progressive fee. Additionally, most of the other towns used to justify this do not pay the tax rate we pay here. If this is a school budget problem the fix should focus on ALL school participants, not just those who need to use bus to transport. (think of Mass Pike tolls supporting the entire state highway system 'taxing' those of us in the west---but nobody else). Our very high taxes should provide for this service and we need to cut from someplace else...not sure where. Maybe funnel some of the excess from the Fire Palace.

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