The School Committee voted to approve having four school buses next year, one more than this year, in hopes of serving as many Watertown students as possible despite the change in start time at the middle school. The bus the fees will also change for some.
The later start time for Watertown Middle School meant that it would be harder to make runs both there and to Hosmer Elementary School using the same bus.
When the School Committee last met they considered keeping three buses but cutting down the number of students who would be able to ride the bus. Town Council President and School Committee member Mark Sideris said he and other got a “significant number of phone calls on the subject.
“It is a hot button issue,” Sideris said.
School Committee Chair John Portz liked the idea of having four buses.
“It has the advantage of impacting the least number of students, which I think has value to it,” Portz said.
School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley said the options were weighed by the Budget and Finance Subcommittee and the recommended going with the four bus option, adding that there may be more changes.
“I think it is a huge opportunity for us next year to take a look at what works and what is safest,” Foley said.
One option would be to designate students on a particular bus not by the school where they attend, but grouping them in areas of town, so the bus can serve both schools. This could mean potentially having students in grades K-6 on the same bus.
The MBTA buses could be another option for some students, said School Committee member Lily Rayman-Read. They could take the 71 down Mt. Auburn Street, get off at Summer Street and walk to the Middle School from there. Discount MBTA passes are available, said Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Mary DeLai.
Sideris said that the Town is also starting a shuttle system and recently hired a Transportation Planner, so there may be new options for students down the road.
Foley added that School officials need to work with the Police Department to make sure students not taking the bus have a safe route to school. The Police are in charge of the crossing guards.
Another goal of the School Committee has been to not raise the school bus fee significantly, while also limiting the impact on the School Budget. The fee is $300 for those charged the fee (those living over 2 miles from school get to go for free), but the schools now subsidize 82 percent of the cost of busing. If there was no subsidy, the full cost would be $1,650 per student.
One group that has received a discount – paying $200 – is students living south of the Charles River who go to Hosmer School. School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said it may be time to change that.
“It was sugar coating the bitter pill of closing their local school, the Parker School,” Hsu-Balzer said. “That was 30 years ago. I think it is time that anyone who pays to ride the bus should pay the same amount.”
The School Committee agreed and voted to end the discount for students living south of the Charles River. They also voted to go with four buses for next year.
Superintendent Dede Galdston said that the district can now negotiate a new bus contract, and other issues can be worked on.