Germantown — Concerns for student safety and a commitment to consistency has stalled a proposal by the Germantown School District to offer contracts to parents of private and parochial school students in 2014-15.
It would be the first time the district would employ the use of the contracts, which allows for payment to the families of eligible riders equal to the average cost to the district of busing the student, in return for the family providing transportation.
The board on May 19 voted against moving forward with the employment of private and parochial school parent contracts, after a split 3-3 vote to amend the plan failed. The amended motion would have allowed the use of the contracts for a slightly smaller group of students than the original proposal, based on information provided by the district's busing company.
"Go Riteway has done an extensive review of routes and parings to identify opportunities for use of parent contracts that would result in savings to the district. Given the analysis Riteway has done, the original motion (to offer parent contracts to parochial school students) would increase transportation costs," said board member Thomas Barney, who chairs the transportation committee. "I can't support it anymore given the new information I have."
A selective system
Barney at the meeting presented updated information to the board that could result in a savings of between $70,000 and $95,000 if the district were to offer parent contracts to parents of students who attend five specific schools, including David's Star Lutheran and Falls Baptist Academy.
But David's Star Principal Tim Gustafson cited concerns specific to student safety if the amended proposal moved forward.
"We have a number of families, who if they don't have busing and with their work schedules, we're going to ask some of these children, assuming the weather cooperates, to get to school by walking or by bike," said David's Star Principal Tim Gustafson. "I feel that removing the busing so they no longer have that opportunity puts our families in a very difficult, potentially hazardous, situation."
Though he said his opinion was previously "on the fence," board President Bob Soderberg said continuing to offer busing to private and parochial school students is consistent with prior board decisions, such as the board decision a couple years ago to include the bus transportation option for St. Boniface.
All are taxpayers
"I value the pennies the nickels and the dimes," Soderberg said. "In this case the right thing to do is to (consider) they're all taxpayers. My position will be one that I support (continuing to provide) transportation today — I think it's the right thing to do."
School Board Vice President Sarah Larson agreed, adding her concern for consistency of board action.
"I believe when we talk about fairness and equity these folks are taxpayers and the safety of all children," she said.
Board member Michael Loth, who at the meeting in April urged the board to act efficiently on this decision, was not in attendence, prompting board member Bruce Warnimont to challenge whether the board should be making this kind of decision without the full board present.
"This is a big decision," said Warnimont, who was the lone voter in approval of the original motion that contracts be offered. "To me it's only fair to make it a full board decision. Every child of school age can get bus transportation to a public school; when people make choices alternatively (their) choices have consequences." After the vote, Warnimont said he will see to it the item is revisited at the next board meeting.
In Germantown, the average cost would be about $612, factoring in public, private and parochial students. This is a lot less than what the district spends to transport most of the private and parochial school students, which is between $1000 and $3000 per student. Affected parents would include parents of private and parochial students whose travel cost exceeds one and a half times the average cost, or about $918.
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