Due to a jump in the number of students from Watertown going to Minuteman Regional Vocational School, the bus going to the school has been filled to the brim, and sometimes over capacity.
Because Watertown is not a member community of Minuteman, responsibility for getting the students to school falls on the Watertown Public Schools.
Watertown school officials learned in April that 62 students would be enrolling at Minuteman, which was three more than anticipated, according to a letter to parents from Superintendent Dede Galdston. In additions, two more students were enrolled because it was the best place to accommodate their educational needs.
The district sent out letters to the families of students going to Minuteman asking if they would like to ride the bus to school, Galdston wrote, and by Aug. 15, 38 parents replied. After Aug. 15, another 19 responses came in asking for busing, bringing the total to 53. Another seven families have not responded, Galdston said, and are assumed to be finding another way to school for their children.
The capacity of the bus used by the Watertown Schools is 52, just under the number of riders. Galdston wrote that it was expected they number could fit on the bus because there be some students missing due to absences and if needed students could sit three to a bench.
Parents report that the bus is more crowded than that, with as many as 63 students riding the bus some days. Parent Ilana Mainelli told the School Committee last week that the situation has been confusing, with some students who applied for a bus pass not getting one and others that did not apply getting one.
Galdston confirmed that more than 53 students have been riding the bus.
“We do not feel that it is appropriate to turn away any student and leave them by the side of the road so the driver has been allowing those non-registered riders to ride in the mornings,” Galston wrote. “There appears to be a more significant challenge in the afternoons. It has been reported that as many as 63 students have been boarding the bus, many of those unregistered.”
Watertown officials asked the school bus provider, Local Motion of Newton, whether they could provide more buses. They did not have one available in the morning, but did have one to transport 11 students in the afternoon.
This is considered a short-term solution, Galdston said, and other options were explored, including seeing if the Newton Public Schools had room on their buses to transport Watertown students, looking for quotes for an 8-passenger van, and asking if Minuteman has room on their bus to Belmont (a district member) for more students.
The last one worked out, Galdston said.
“We are pleased to announce that, as of (Sept. 20), we have a tentative agreement with Minuteman that they will provide transportation for approximately 14 of our students that reside closest to the Belmont line,” Galdston said.
The situation could have been avoided, or at least not left to the Watertown Schools if Watertown joined the Minuteman District, Mainelli said. Watertown has had some interest in exploring the possibility, but have not seriously looked at the idea, Mainelli added.
“Some members of the (School) Committee have said they would consider it when a new building is built (for Minuteman) but it is a lengthy process,” said Mainelli, who asked for the School Committee to put an agenda item for its next meeting about considering joining the Minuteman District.