Many parents unfazed by transportation fee

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

Fees to ride school buses this year imposed by the Jefferson County School District don’t seem to be outwardly ruffling a lot of parental feathers.

However, some area PTA presidents are concerned for families who might need to pay several hundred dollars to get their children to and from school on the bus.

The district has enacted a $100 per-student fee for the school year, which equates to about a quarter per ride if a student rides the bus every day to and from school. The fee is optional, but a student who hasn’t paid the fee will not be allowed on a school bus for any reason.

“I feel that there are not a lot of options for some families,” said Evergreen Middle School PTA president Risa Holmes. “I definitely feel it’s going to be hard for a lot of people.”

While the $100-per-child fee may be steep for some families, it’s less expensive than the price of gas to drive children to and from school, she said. It’s difficult when the bus fees, plus school fees and the cost of supplies, all hit a family’s budget at the same time.

“I don’t mind paying the bus fee,” said Marshdale PTA president Nonie Willisch. “I would rather see district money used in other areas rather than for buses. Overall, 50 cents a day to ride the bus — I don’t think it’s exorbitant. But this could be hard on some families. I hope the district looks at finding a way to help parents with several kids.”

She suggested the district implement a per-child bus fee for up to two children, and a family rate for those with more than two kids.

The bus fee was implemented as a way to offset a $1 million deficit in the district’s transportation budget, according to Dick Cervera, executive director of transportation.

“I don’t think that it’s going to be as dramatic as people think,” said Cervera, who spent five years as a bus driver in the Coal Creek Canyon area of Jeffco. “Our choice going into the school year was to cut service or charge the fees.”

In Evergreen, 46 percent, or 1,319, of the 2,868 students rode the bus last year. Cervera projects that number will be comparable this year.

Bus fee questions

Some families were not sure whether the bus fee was mandatory.

But the fee is indeed optional, despite this statement on the Jeffco School District website: “All students who are eligible to ride the bus to a neighborhood school will be charged $100 per child per year.”

Students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch can apply to have bus fees waived, and some special education students are exempt from bus fees.

Cervera said bus routes have not been cut, and having fees for buses gives the district an exact count of how many children can be on each bus on a given day, which is a boon for parents of choice-enrolled students.

Choice enrollment allows students to attend schools outside of their attendance area. For example, a student who is supposed to go to Conifer High School can attend Evergreen High School, but without bus service. Now that student can ride the bus, assuming there is space based on the bus-fee count.

Josie Gallagher, director of the bus barn in Marshdale, said parents of choice-enrolled students are eager to get their students on the buses.

Gallagher said parents she’s talked to are happy to pay the additional fees and are clamoring to get bus service for their kids. If anything, parents are calling if they don’t see the fee on their bill.

A safe way to travel

Cervera said he’d prefer that all district students ride school buses because it’s easier on the environment — one bus filled with 30 children uses less fuel than 30 cars driving to school.

He says statistics show that school buses are safer than other vehicles.

“The school bus is the safest form of ground transportation there is,” Cervera said. “Statistically, it’s 50 times safer than a personal car.”

He said buses are built to withstand the impact of front-end collisions, and drivers are trained to be safe in all circumstances.

“To go a step further, a lot of people say that school buses are unsafe because they don’t have seat belts,” he said. “However, the way buses are built, if they are in a collision, a child’s entire torso slides forward into the padded seat in front, so children sustain fewer injuries.”

Plus, he added, the bus sits up higher than a personal vehicle, so in a side collision, the impact tends to be beneath the students rather than at the same level.

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.