Last September, the EGSD bus situation was a dumpster fire – buses late to pick up kids, late to arrive at school, late to arrive back in the neighborhood, caused by the move from a three-tier bus system to two-tier, with the addition of later start times at Cole Middle School and EGHS mixed in (mainly a headache for after-school away-game buses).
This year, the transportation picture is a lot brighter, but not without its kinks. In particular, three weeks into the school year, several buses heading to Cole are arriving inside the 10-minute-before-school goal. A week ago, the administration requested that students across the district arrive at bus stops five minutes earlier. That should help.
But the biggest issue seems to be for those families whose children used to receive bus transportation but this year do not because the district is now enforcing stricter walking perimeters. The loudest voices – but not the only voices – have come from the Hill and Harbor neighborhoods for children who attend Cole. Some of those students now have a 1.5 mile walk to school via routes (Post Road or First Avenue to Middle Road) some parents argue are not safe.
Why just add another bus, or two? Each additional bus would cost $75,000, a prohibitive sum when the EGHS library is without a librarian and other staff cuts were made this year.
School Committeeman Jeff Dronzek, at the School Committee meeting Tuesday evening, wondered if certain transportation-related issues were not really school issues at all, but were more about public safety involving the town.
“The kinds of conversations that are coming to the [transportation] subcommittee are broader than our scope,” he said. “We’re being asked to make decisions on safety … and the quality of our roads and sidewalks.”
Dronzek said the schools need to work with the town.
“If we need more resources, they need to come from somewhere. If it’s crossing guards, does that become a supplemental appropriation?” he said.
In funding the schools considerably less than the School Committee requested this year, the Town Council said the School Committee could come back and seek “supplemental appropriations” for needed expenses. In particular, they were referring to special education, for which spending is notoriously hard to predict.
“I agree. I think it is a bigger discussion. It’s a joint discussion,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. She said she and Supt. Victor Mercurio would talk with Town Council President Sue Cienki and Town Manager Gayle Corrigan.
Transportation Subcommittee member Anne Musella also spoke up about safety issues for walkers.
“Many of the safety concerns relate to traffic violations,” she said. “To what extent should the kids’ education money be spent on safety for drivers who violate traffic laws?”
She also said Ocean State drivers need to be held to account when it comes to school arrival times.
“This is not a function of the routes,” she said. “We need Ocean State to work with us and we need the district to enforce the routes.”
– Elizabeth F. McNamara