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School bussing fee passes by three votes

Mount Horeb Mail
Thursday, August 7, 2008
By Michele Kraft

Beginning this fall, students who live within a two-mile radius of their school will be charged a $25.00 fee for the academic year to ride the bus to school. A resolution passed in a 21-18 vote at the Mount Horeb Area School District’s Annual Meeting on August 4 will allow the district to charge students the new fee.

In past years, the school board has sought to pass resolutions that would rescind the district’s long held bussing policy, which provided transportation to all students residing in the district. The vast majority of Wisconsin school districts in do not bus within the state mandated two-mile radius of schools. The transportation of these students is not covered by state aid.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s website (http://dpi.wi.gov) states: “…districts that choose to transport pupils who live less than two miles from school may not claim state transportation aid for the transportation of such pupils unless the route they would have to walk to reach the school includes a designated unusually hazardous transportation (UHT) area." and “Aid is paid at a per pupil rate based on distance and days enrolled.”

State policy does allow school districts to charge for transportation they provide within the two-mile radius not subsidized by the state.

According to Superintendent of Schools Doctor Wayne Anderson, the Mount Horeb Area School District is one of very few districts that bus students within the two-mile radius.

“I don’t know of any [other school districts] in the area that don’t have the two miles set [as the transportation limit],” Anderson said, “for them, if it’s farther than two miles they transport, if it’s less than two miles they don’t transport. Our district was at two miles, and at first [expanding the routes] was just for the very young children, and then it was expanded to be what the policy was up until Monday night”  

Strongly held concerns about the safety of children walking to school as well as increasing traffic congestion were voiced at the meeting. The implication that parents would not pay the $25 and force their children to walk to school held weight with some.

Chris Mealy, a resident of Mount Horeb, sought to underscore pedestrian safety issues by presenting the obituary of a three-year-old child. The child’s death was the result of being struck by an automobile on 2nd and Garfield, an accident that occurred approximately thirty-nine years ago.

Opinions were voiced about health concerns, questioning why students with obesity problems were not walking to school. Others felt that the $25.00 fee was a bargain, especially when compared with the $125 per semester fee charged in Madison. 

Some citizens expressed strong opposition to the fee, believing that they were being unfairly penalized by having to pay $25.00 for their unfunded transportation needs.

Others felt that the roundabouts created extremely hazardous conditions for all pedestrians, noting that they and other adults had narrowly missed being struck by vehicles speeding through the roundabouts. Congestion, speeding by parents after they had dropped off their children and a lack of sufficient numbers of crossing guards were other objections raised. 

Anderson explained that because gas prices had been so low in the past, and because the district owns its own busses, it had been easy to provide transportation for students in town. Busses often passed through the village after picking up out of town, and there were empty seats available at that time. There was a gradual transition to providing full transportation for children within the two-mile radius. After it was decided to pick up the younger children, it seemed reasonable to pick up older children as well.

“As the school district kept growing,” Anderson continued, “it put a larger and larger pressure than it did when we were much smaller. We don’t have any empty busses, and now we have several routes that only pick up in town, which we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t offered to pick up in town.”

If a student resides within a designated hazardous area or receives free or reduced lunch, they will not be charged for bussing. Families will be charged no more than $50 per year, regardless of how many children are riding the bus. Parents will be informed by mail, and have until September 8 to purchase their bus pass for the year.

“If the public wants to recommend some type of change,” Anderson said, “they have the opportunity to do this each year at the annual meeting. The public makes this decision. This isn’t one that the school board makes; this is one where the public will actually vote each year. They will vote to keep the policy the same, or they will vote to make a change.”

The next Annual Meeting will occur on the first Monday in August 2009.

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