Schools may charge pupils for bus rides 7:45 opening times could go unchanged

February 19, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

The Howard County Board of Education is discussing a pay-to-ride system for school buses, a proposal that could allow many school opening times to go unchanged next academic year.

The discussion during yesterday's budget work session came on the heels of a proposal to start high schools 15 minutes earlier -- at 7:30 a.m. -- a move that would require fewer buses and save the school system about $500,000 in transportation costs. Superintendent Michael E. Hickey had already included the savings in his proposed $202 million budget.

The board will take final action on the matter Tuesday, when it approves a budget. Among other options, the board may decide to restore the $500,000 to keep the 7:45 a.m. opening time, or it may ask school administrators to devise a plan to charge students to ride the bus, said board chairman Dana Hanna.

In public hearings, parents had complained about day-care problems and worried about their children's safety at bus stops -- especially during the winter, when the sun rises later. Teachers worried about late arrivals, and students worried whether their peers would stay awake in class.

Some parents who had contacted board members were "willing to pay a fee to keep the bus schedule the way it is," Mr. Hanna said.

Director of Operations Robert Lazarewicz said there would be nothing illegal about charging a fee for students who ride school buses.

"California is charging a lot of fees right now in certain districts for bus service," he said.

About 50 years ago, Howard County charged students to ride school buses, Mr. Lazarewicz said.

"Back to the future," Mr. Hanna replied.

During the work session, two board members said they were uncomfortable that the school system had budgeted to increase bus funding for private school students while trying to trim costs to transport public school students.

Under the proposal, the school system would increase the amount of funding for private school busing from $167,000 to $361,000 -- a 116 percent increase to accommodate about 625 private or parochial school students next year.

"I'm not comfortable with it when we are [dealing] with the possibility of making our own kids go to school at 7:30 a.m.," said Susan Cook, vice chairwoman. "It really bothers me when we are raising it this much."

The school system has budgeted roughly $6.3 million to transport students, not including those in special education or the teen parenting program, or those attending the Gateway School.

Although safety concerns for private school students were involved, said Sandra French, "I have a problem of us funding what is a private school choice program."

Many students who attend private schools live far away from their schools, and "the more [miles] you have to cover, the more cost you have involved," Mr. Lazarewicz said.

Mr. Lazarewicz said private schools had changed starting times to accommodate the school system's bus schedule. For example, St. Louis School in Clarksville, which teaches kindergarten to eighth grade, starts at 7:45 a.m.

Public elementary schools start from 8:15 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.

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