Committee Votes to Charge for Busing, Close Keogh Building
By law, students in grades kindergarten through 6th grade who live over two miles from the school are eligible for free transportation. The distance is measured from the end of the student’s driveway to the nearest entrance to the assigned school via public roads. K—6 students within the two-mile radius and all students in grades 7-12 would be eligible to participate in a fee-based transportation system whereby families would apply in June for the following year and students would be given a bus pass. A family cap for bus fees would be set at $360.
Although the School Committee voted to accept the fee itself, making a commitment to fee-based transportation, the process and individual details will be discussed further moving forward. School Committee Chairman Dan Ranieri said that parents need to know the fee to make the decision of whether to use the fee-based bus option. School Committee member Mike Carr felt that being asked to vote on the fee the same night they receive the imformation packet does not allow for members to fully process that information. Carr was the member who abstained from voting.
Parent Ellen Pike asked about the hiring of crossing guards for streets within two miles of an elementary school where walking students would have to cross very busy streets, for example, Deer Run children crossing Pulaski Blvd. Ranieri assured the public that student safety will be a key component in the planning. However, they cannot promise the hiring of a crossing guard if only a few students are affected—if, say, only two students are crossing at an intersection as opposed to 30.
According to Ranieri, currently Bellingham provides buses for all students outside the designated walking areas surrounding Bellingham High and Memorial Middle schools. With parents driving students and older students driving themselves to school, there are several partially empty buses. The money saved by the reduction in buses and the fees generated would go to the town, since the town pays for the transportation costs. However, both Ranieri and Superintendent Edward Fleury noted that town officials indicated that the savings in transportation costs would be directed back to the school budget.
Busing costs do not apply to Bellingham students attending Blackstone Valley Voc-Tech High School. In August, State Senator Richard Moore announced that regional and vocational high schools would receive additional state funding for transportation costs. At the School Committee meeting, Ranieri mentioned that towns formerly received some compensation for transportation costs for students residing over two miles away from school; however, that reimbursement ended over ten years ago.
In another cost-saving measure, the School Committee voted at their October 7 meeting to close the Keogh Administration building and move the 11 employees to the town hall or town hall annex, which currently houses police administration. With the completion of the new police station slated for April 2015, the offices in the town hall annex would be open.
The Keogh Building was first opened in the late 1930s and used as a both a high school and elementary school building for several decades. With the opening of South Elementary School, the building was no longer used as a school, but was converted into office space for the school administrators as well as a conference room and public meeting room. These facilities are also available in the town hall and municipal center complex. Fleury also noted that placing town and school officials in the same location would increase efficiency, plus school officials would be more centrally located within the town.
Committees had been established this fall to study the future of not only the Keogh building, but also the buildings and programs related to the Bellingham Early Childhood Center (BECP) and the Paul J. Primavera Center Alternative High School. However, with the closing of Clara Macy Elementary School and the transition of students and grade levels to other Bellingham schools, no decisions will be made regarding BECP and PJP until at least the 2016-17 school year.
BHS Principal Peter Marano gave commendations to six students who had received a perfect score on last year’s math or science MCAS exam: Jacob Cohen, Meghan Cook, Sarah Edwards, Kyle Martin, Josh Robbie and Erin Umlauf. Additionally, two BHS students, Elijah Sutcliffe and Boston Strong, received National Merit Scholarship Awards for performance on last year’s PSAT exam.