January 31, 2013
Holliston mother Valerie Ogilvie lives 1.9 miles from the school her children attend. So if she wants them to ride the bus, she must pay $450, the maximum fee per family. Meanwhile, students who live in the next neighborhood, 2 miles or more from school, ride for free.
This legislative session, state Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, has filed a bill to get rid of that rule, meaning students who live anywhere in a community would have to pay a fee to ride the bus.
“If we’re gong to do a fee, it needs to be fair and it needs to apply to everyone,” Ogilvie said.
Under state law, districts cannot charge bus fees to students in kindergarten through sixth grade who live more two miles from school.
While many MetroWest school committees support the bill – for fairness and to raise revenue – other districts disagree.
“If you eradicate the 2-mile limit, some people believe your next step is to charge everybody and some other people believe your next step should be to charge no one,” said Hopkinton School Committee Chairwoman Nancy Burdick.
The committee over the years has changed its position on the bill, which Dykema has filed before. Last year it did not support it but did three years ago, Burdick said.
The Hopkinton committee has discussed reducing or eliminating $210-per-student fee, in part due to resident complaints. But Burdick said a better way to ease the burden on parents would be for the state to change the formula it uses to determine how much aid to give to each district.
Although Westborough doesn’t charge a bus fee, last year the School Committee sent a letter to the Legislature in support of abolishing the 2-mile limit.
“We’ve been seriously considering (charging a fee) for the past couple of years and one difference is that several of our schools are located on busy streets without sidewalks,” said Westborough School Committee Chairwoman Ilyse Levine-Kanji.
Framingham does charge fees, but School Committee Chairman Dave Miles said even if the bill passed, its committee might still not ask for fees from elementary schoolers who live outside the radius.
“It would be a source of revenue but I’m not sure we’d want to do it,” Miles said.
Marlborough does not charge bus fees, but School Committee Vice Chairwoman Michelle Bodin-Hettinger said she would support the bill on behalf of towns that do charge, because busing is so expensive.
“I know it’s a major strain on communities and it would help a lot of communities if they were able to charge more,” she said.
Laura Krantz can be reached at 508-626-4429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.