On Busing for New High School,Rezoning and is Lowell Really only Community not to Bus?

I haven’t found any solid facts to confirm that Lowell is or isn’t the only city that doesn’t bus its High School students. I reached out to LANCE CARTER from METCO, Inc. who serves on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Association of Pupil Transportation, he did not have that information but stated he would check and have someone get back to me in a few days. On Friday I received this response:

I do not have statistics relative to which high schools transport and which do not. You may want to reach out to John Descoteaux in the Lowell Public Schools office. He may be able to assist you.

Colleen Cavanaugh

In addition DESE (Mass Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education) informed me they do not keep records for that information. They suggested I’d have to look community by community.

So someone with a specific agenda could say, because no one has stats that say Lowell isn’t the only one who doesn’t bus High School students, that Lowell is the only one until someone proves otherwise. They probably will continue to say it is.

Despite what you hear, busing is not a small cost, it is not easily adjusted and it’s not easy to structure routes. Presently Lowell spends over SEVEN MILLION dollars in transportation cost for ALL students.

If I recall, the busing contract expires this year and I believe it was already out for bid and based on the new Min. wage law and the affordable care act associated cost it’s sure to increase.

What doesn’t get mentioned by Teddy and others enough when talking about busing is that many communities that offer busing CHARGE a BUS FEE (See Dracut) or that most Urban cities like Worcester – Brockton – Springfield have a 2 mile policy for busing students.

Worcester – Transportation Program
Free transportation is granted to pupils in grades kindergarten through 12 who reside two (2) miles or more from the school which they are entitled to attend. The legal obligation of the School Committee in this respect is limited to provision for transportation for elementary school children and the School Committee does have the right, if necessary, to charge for transportation or not provide transportation at the secondary level regardless of where students may live

Brockton – elementary students who live more than 1½ miles from school are entitled to transportation under the Brockton plan; and middle school and high school students who live more than 2 miles from school receive transportation.

Springfield Transportation Policy
The city of Springfield’s transportation policy is more generous than the state’s

A. Springfield provides no-cost transportation in accordance with home-to-school walking distance rules for students in: Grades K through 5 if the walking distance (as determined solely by the SPS Transportation Department) from their residence address to their assigned school site exceeds 1.5 miles.

Zanetti Montessori is a K-8 school. Zanetti Grades K through 5 if the walking distance (as determined solely by the SPS Transportation Department) from their residence address to their assigned school site exceeds 1.5 miles.

Zanetti Grades 6 through 8 if the walking distance (as determined solely by the SPS Transportation Department) from their residence address to their assigned school site exceeds 2 miles.

Grades 6 through 12 if the walking distance (as determined solely by the SPS Transportation Department) from their residence address to their assigned school site exceeds 2 miles.

Lowell presently has a very favorable busing policy for families
Grades K-4 must live .75/mile to qualify for a school bus.
Grades 5-8 must live 1.50/miles to qualify for a school bus.

If Lowell decided to use the 2 mile limit like most communities use, many students would still not qualify for High School busing to the present site. If you lived on Methuen St near the Dracut line for example, it’s under 2 miles and you still would not qualify. Same holds true for 20 Douglas Road, 487 Westford St, 380 University Ave.- Salem St. – Market St – South St. – Pleasant St – Chapel St. etc.

The same would hold true foe the Cawley Site, families on Burnham road, Virginia Ave, Chapel St., Stackpole St., Concord St, South St. etc. would be in the same situation.

If we start busing to the present High School location I also believe it would be a cost increase right away since we just bid out a new transportation contract. In addition it is my belief that to properly do a rezoning it is only right to give parents a BIG window to adjust, understand why and when this is happening.

It would be smarter in my opinion to wait for the new High School wherever it gets selected to be, to start High School transportation and to rezone the city.

I believe a change in the start times of many schools would have to go along with providing High School transportation. When I went to Lowell High (in the late 1970’s) we started at 7:15 am because we had HS busing. To provide High School busing without increased cost, I’m willing to bet we would have to go back to an early start time to keep cost in-line.

My limited understanding of routing (from my days working at the Voke which had 2 shifts) is that you need the same buses to be able to do multiple runs so I think we would see many school times changing in Lowell which would go hand in hand with the need to rezone.

I believe it could and should be done IF the School Committee is willing to advocate for it and direct the Administration to do it. It could be done by using the next few years during construction/renovation to hold informational meetings in the school community to explain why this needs to happen.

I’m willing to do that but am opposed to doing it until a new High School goes on-line. Then we can start high school busing to either the new or present site while implementing what I think would be a massive rezoning.

To try to start busing next year and rezoning the city with such a small notice to families isn’t in the best interest of the students, families or city budget.

In addition parents should be told as soon as a final location for the High School is picked that when a new high school opens the “New Zoning” goes into effect. That means if Gerry who lives in Centralville goes to the Butler School in 2019, 2020, 2021 but a new High School comes on-line in 2022 then Gerry will now go to a neighborhood school for the 8th grade. Otherwise there is no cost savings. We can’t piecemeal this, it has to be all or nothing in my opinion.

Even if Lowell rezones we are still required to transport students attending Charter Schools Citywide. So if little Teddy P lives in Belvidere and goes to the Charter School by the Rourke Bridge Lowell has to have a bus to do that. I believe Charter Schools would require 8-10 dedicated buses and that number could increase depending on how the enrollment of charter schools grows.

Districts that utilize neighborhood zones to establish eligibility for transportation services for its students, however, may not impose a geographical zone around a charter school and limit transportation for students attending the charter school to only those students who reside within this zone. See 603 CMR 1.07(3)(a). Charter schools are district-wide schools whose “zone” is the entire school district, such as a single high school or vocational school. The school district’s obligations to transport students who attend a charter school extend to all students who reside within the school district because all students who reside within the school district within which the charter school is located have a similar opportunity to attend the charter school.

Busing is never an easy proposition, it does NOT count to the Net School Spending requirements and has to be planned and rolled out to the parents with plenty of notice.

I am for busing to the NEW High School regardless of its location but opposed to doing it before then or creating new zones citywide until then.

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