Not all children who take the bus in the morning will take the bus back to the same place in the afternoon. Whether – and, if so, to what extent – District 65 should provide free transportation from a school to a child-care center remains an open topic with the School Board.
At the Dec. 7 Finance Committee meeting, Committee chair Candance Chow said providing “after-school and before-school [transportation] supports … is not necessarily consistent with our current policy.”
Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Brown provided information about the Board policy on after-school busing: “According to Board Policy 4:110, students may be transported to and from child care locations if (1) the child care location is more than 1.5 miles from the school and (2) if the location is along the District’s regular routes.”
Dr. Brown also provided information that showed the District presently transports 183 students to child care centers after school. Of those, only 66 meet the District’s criteria for receiving free after-school bus service; 117 students do not meet the criteria. These children have after-school care at the McGaw Y, Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, Family Focus, Bayit, the Salvation Army and Robert Crown Community Center.
“If child is otherwise eligible [for after-school busing], based on home address, we could continue to provide busing to child care location within District borders,” said Dr. Brown.
“Do you look at only kids who are eligible for busing to their homes?” Ms. Chow asked.
Jordan Ryan, District 65’s transportation coordinator said, “It has been the practice to allow non-eligible riders to just ride the bus …. Do we bus to these spots based on the 1.5 mile-plus-bus-route policy?”
“Twenty-one students at Dewey School go to the McGaw Y,” said Board member Suni Kartha.
“A Board policy would say we should not bus them,” Dr. Brown said, “because it’s not a mile and a half [to the McGaw Y], but they may be eligible for a ride because the home is more than a mile and a half away. If a child is eligible we might say, “Hey, we’re going to bus him anyway. Why not let him take the bus to the child care center?”
“But if that’s the case, why wouldn’t we just take everyone to the McGaw Y then?” Ms. Kartha asked.
“It’s a problem of space availability,” said Dr. Brown, “especially if we are trying to pare down our buses.”
Dr. Brown said, “If we, under the [proposed] changes at Lincoln School, make it a walk-area school except for six kids …. [who would likely be] on the Special Education bus … we would not have a bus to take 13 kids 1.2 miles to the McGaw Y. There would be no bus to take the one child 2.1 miles to Family Focus or Fleetwood-Jourdain. The three kids going to the Salvation Army would not have a bus, because they’re not eligible and there’s no bus at Lincoln. If we make the “hazard” change [eliminating the bus routes because there is no longer a walking hazard], we lose a lot of flexibility with after-school busing.”
Ms. Ryan said this is the second consecutive year that the McGaw Y had not provided bus service. “They’ve significantly pared down their bus service.”
“JoAnn Avery at Family Focus said it would be devastating if District 65 did not provide the busing,” Dr. Brown said.
District 65 Board President Tracy Quattrocki told the RoundTable, “There was never any intention to cut the buses from Family Focus.”
“We are subsidizing child care,” said Ms. Chow. “There’s a fine line between what is the role of the District and how can we work with our partners to share the responsibility, share the cost.”
Board member Claudia Garrison said, “If a parent needs child care, it doesn’t seem reasonable for a child to walk a mile for child care. … It’s not just a transportation question. It’s also, ‘What are we providing?’ Parents need this child care. It’s a bigger decision than just a bus service.”
Ms. Chow appeared to agree. “I think it is,” she said. “It affects the families, and that’s why we wanted to pull it out of making a recommendation. … How might fee-for-service apply in this context? There are families [who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch] using this service, but clearly fee-for-service is not an option for them.”
Board member Jennifer Phillips said, “We have to realize that these kids would otherwise be taking the bus home, and the child care center is a proxy for home.”
Assistant Superintendent John Price said to Ms. Garrison, “Claudia, if this does not look like good policy, what would you recommend?”
“I think it’s going the wrong way,” said Board member Omar Brown. “You’re asking the Board to come up with proposals. I think you should get the data and come up with what are the viable options. We should be looking at the whole transportation program.”
“It would be helpful for me to get some direction from the Board,” Mr. Price said.
Ms. Chow said, “We need additional information on who these students are. Do they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch? What their home locations are, how many qualify for being bused, based on their homes, because there are a lot of viable options we’ve been talking about, but we don’t know how ‘viable’ they are until we assess that data.”
Ms. Chow also said the District should “explore the fee-for-service … depending on the partner, on the student … Look into a policy that if there is an existing route going to a daycare provider and there is available space on that bus, why not include children on it, whether or not they take the bus in the morning?”
Colette Allen, executive director of Family Focus, said she is concerned about the children from King Arts walking to Family Focus for after-school programs “through a bad neighborhood.”
Superintendent Paul Goren said that, in considering an after-school busing policy, “we also have to look at the safety of the neighborhood. If this takes a different timeline than the discussion [on walk routes], that’s OK.”
Ms. Ryan said the District would need the information by March.
“What we should focus on is values,” said Ms. Chow. “We know from a fiduciary standpoint, it is not our responsibility to subsidize child care. However, children have to get to a destination after school, and if that’s not home, we need to look at what the options are to make sure they are safe after school.”
Mr. Price said, “We will look at who the children are – do they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch – and cost efficiencies. If there’s already a route, we will look at maximizing those routes. We will consider safety and look at a fee-for-service option.”