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Changes in public school busing are proposed.

Byline: Marc C. Sanguinetti

SHREWSBURY - Proposed changes to the school transportation fee schedule would result in lower rates for families who apply early but would eliminate the $500 family cap for households with two or more students.

A $15 bus pass processing fee is also being considered for all students using transportation, including those who live farther than two miles from school and do not pay a fee currently. School Committee members' reactions to the proposed fee changes were mixed Wednesday night and some of the recommended changes still require review by legal counsel.

The proposed fee schedule comes as the School Committee reviews recommended changes to its transportation policy for the 2010-11 school year. Last September, the School Committee established a transportation task force to review its policies after a surge in late registrations for bus passes led to changes in bus routes and overcrowding. Transportation task force members made their recommendations to the School Committee Wednesday night.

Anne M. Mahan, director of business services, said the task force looked for ways to alleviate the financial burden on families while still maintaining current revenue levels. She said proposed changes to the fee schedule would introduce an early payment incentive to those who pay by May 1 but would remove the $500 family cap.

The current transportation fee is $250 per student with a $500 maximum family cap. There is a $50 late fee per student for applications received after the June 1 deadline. The school system is allowed to charge a bus fee for students in kindergarten through Grade 6 if they live less than two miles from their school. Parents of students in Grades 7 through 12 can be charged regardless of distance. All parents must apply for a bus pass regardless of requirement to pay.

Under the new fee schedule, the recommended fee for applications received before May 1 would be $199 per student for the first two students and an additional fee of $100 for each additional student. The fee remains the same for applications received by the regular June 1 deadline at $250 for the first two students, but introduces an additional $150 for each additional student with no cap. Late filers who apply after July 1 would see the sharpest increase at $300 for the first two students and $150 for each additional student with no family cap.

School Committee member Mark T. Murray called the new fee schedule "a bit harsh." He said he agrees with offering financial incentives for early applicants but said the new fee schedule needs to be tempered.

"Having to shell out $500 for bus transportation already hurts," Mr. Murray said, adding that communication is key if the goal is to alleviate the financial burden on families. "Communicate the heck out of it or you're dead in the water."

School Committee member John R. Samia asked task force members why any change to the fee schedule is necessary if it doesn't affect revenue. Mrs. Mahan said that the new fee schedule potentially lowers costs for families who pay early. She noted that for a family with three students, the cost remains the same if they pay by the early deadline. Ideally, she said the new fee schedule will attract more ridership from families who find the current costs too high.

School Committee Chairman Erin H. Canzano said she has concerns that it may not be financially feasible for some families to pay by May 1. Mrs. Mahan said the school district offers payment plans to families who get their applications in by the deadline but cannot pay the full fee upfront.

The transportation task force also recommends a $15 bus pass processing fee for all students. Mrs. Mahan said the administrative fee is already included as part of the cost of the transportation fee and would not impact families currently paying it. She said it would be a new fee for families who live more than two miles from their school and who are not required to pay a fee currently. She said the committee is still reviewing with legal counsel whether the fee is allowed under state law.

Committee members said they will review the recommendations and plan to hold public hearings on the proposed changes next month. They said they expect to vote on the changes by March to allow families time to take advantage of early payment incentives.

NAME: SHREWSBURY SCHOOL COMMITTEE

ART: CHART

CUTLINE: Shrewsbury bus fees

PHOTOG: T&G Staff
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 8, 2010
Words:746
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