Sunday, February 14, 2016

More thoughts on discretionary busing

A couple of weeks ago, as I posted about here, the school board changed our district’s system of providing discretionary busing to some areas that do not otherwise qualify for busing under state law. The result is that many neighborhoods that were receiving discretionary busing won’t receive it anymore. The proposal we adopted is here; additional information is here; board member Brian Kirschling wrote more about the board’s decision here.

People are free to appeal busing decisions to the board, and a number of appeals have now been filed. Information about how to appeal is here. Relevant state statutes are here.

Some of the appeals are from people arguing that their homes are more than two miles from their elementary school. If they’re right, then state law entitles them to elementary busing.

Some people have mentioned that they’d be willing to pay to get continued busing service. The district currently offers a limited Pay-to-Ride system “on a space-available, time-available, first-come, first-served basis.” I don’t know whether there are obstacles to expanding this system to enable people to cover the cost of continuing to receive discretionary busing, but it’s a question that the board should examine.

Many of the appeals are arguing that there are safety issues in particular neighborhoods that make walking to school too hazardous. In the past, this was often what discretionary busing appeals were about. Of course, people are free to make any argument in their appeals, but these arguments strike me as not squarely addressing the board’s rationale for changing the policy. The board did not determine that there were no longer any safety concerns. In effect, the board decided that parents, not the district, will have to bear the responsibility for getting kids safely to and from school. (We made an exception for neighborhoods with high levels of economic need that would pose barriers for parents getting their kids to school.)

For me, that decision was driven partly by the fact that state school funding is increasingly tight, but also partly by a concern about arbitrariness. Many, many parents in the district—far more than we have provided discretionary busing to—do not feel that their young children can walk safely to school on their own. It’s the rare parents who will allow their kindergartner or first-grader to walk a mile (or more) by themselves to school. These parents have always had to deal with finding some way to get their kids safely to school—either driving them, walking with them, carpooling, or some other arrangement. If we had to provide discretionary busing to every parent in that position, the cost would be enormous.

So there was an arbitrariness in providing busing to some neighborhoods but not to other ones where parents feel just as compelled to bring their kids to and from school. At my family’s elementary school, for example, where no one receives discretionary busing, there is a double (sometimes triple) line of cars in the parking lot every morning dropping off kids. The situation is far from ideal, but a school bus has never been an option.

Nobody on the board was happy about cutting busing from neighborhoods that have grown to rely on it. It’s not hard to come up with good arguments why it would make sense to provide busing to a particular neighborhood. It’s harder, though, to distinguish the case for providing busing to one neighborhood from the case for doing so for many, many others. Any argument for discretionary busing needs to confront that issue.

As usual, I’m speaking only for myself here, not for the full board or the district.


EDJ said...

Good analysis of a tough situation and I'm sure a tough decision. Thanks for laying it out here thoughtfully.

Chris said...

EDJ -- Thanks!