Parents raise busing concerns
Even though Melissa Dougherty only lives about two miles from Pope John Paul II High School, it takes her son nearly one hour to be get to school on the bus service provided by Spring-Ford Area School District.
On Sept. 24, she and two other PJP parents — Lisa DiRico and Colleen O’Brien — asked the school board to provide a shorter ride.
“I have two girls that go to Spring-Ford and they get home pretty quickly, and a son who goes to Pope John Paul and his ride is 55 minutes,” Dougherty said.
And last week, a different school board fielded a different busing complaint from a different set of parents from a different Catholic school.
Three Pottstown parents whose children attend St. Aloysius Parish School in Lower Pottsgrove complained at the Sept. 20 Pottstown School Board meeting that once their children complete fifth grade, the district stops busing them, even though it had when they were younger.
In both cases, the answers the parents received are rooted in Pennsylvania law.
Although state law does not require a school district to provide transportation to its students at all, when it does, public school districts must provide transportation for all students, public and private — and under the same constraints.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education: “When a school district provides transportation for its public pupils, it must provide transportation services to nonpublic pupils of the same grade level that it is providing for its own pupils. The nonpublic school must be nonprofit and located within ten miles of the district’s boundary, measured by the nearest public road. If the school building in which the pupil is enrolled is not located within the ten-mile distance, the nonpublic pupil is not eligible for transportation, nor are his parents eligible for payment towards transportation costs.”
And that is the primary rule governing the complaints made by Mary Robinson, Mike Scatarella and Michelle Gaski, all of whom wanted to know why Pottstown stops transporting their children after fifth grade at St. Aloysius Parish School, which educates children through the eighth grade.
“A lot of the buses go right past our house, it’s not like we’re not asking them to make a stop they didn’t always make,” said Scatarella, who lives across town on Upland Street.
The simple answer is, Pottstown is a walking school district and all students walk, with the exception of those who have to cross Route 100 to get to school.
That road is considered a hazard by PennDOT and so the district must transport students who would cross it to get to school. But fifth grade is the last grade
for which that transportation is provided, confirmed John Armato, the district’s director of community relations.
That means, as Pottstown School Board President Amy Francis explained to the St. Aloysius parents last week, that it is the last grade for which transportation is provided to the Keim Street Catholic school as well.
“If we provided bus transportation for your sixthgraders, then we would have to do it for the whole district, and that would be very expensive,” said Francis, noting that Pottstown is already under-funded by the state by more than $13 million each year and had to raise taxes 3.5 percent for the current year to balance its budget.
Pottstown also completely outsourced its transportation department, laying off 14 employees.
“Some corners have no crossing guards and we are counting on older siblings to get students home,” said Spruce Street resident Mary Robinson.
According to the state education department, “PennDOT regulations do not address hazards other than road or traffic conditions. The local district may assess conditions such as bad neighborhoods, secluded wooded areas, snow removal, etc., when developing transportation routes.” Gaski, a resident of North Evans Street, said the school is “three or four miles” from her home. (A Google Maps check indicated it is 1.7 miles.)
According to state rules, a school district can ask a student to walk as much as 1.5 miles to a school or bus stop.
A single mother raising two children and a grandson, Gaski said she is currently using Uber to get her child to school, “but that costs a lot of money and I don’t make a lot of money,” she said.
Francis said she sent her children to private school for a time, “so I really do understand.” Nevertheless, she told the parents that although the district has answered this question before, it would be re-examined.
She invited them to the Oct. 11 policy committee meeting where it would be discussed.
At Spring-Ford, the problem is not that the buses don’t take their students, but that it takes too long, the parents said Sept. 24.
Dougherty said the afternoon bus run takes just Pope John Paul II students and is not a problem. But the morning run takes nearly an hour, takes all the PJP students to SpringFord High School “where they have to wait another 15 minutes,” before a bus brings them to their school.
“We’re forced to drive our children, otherwise they’re on the bus for an hour,” said DiRico who, like Daugherty, lives in the Providence Chase development off Hopwood Road in Upper Providence.
State rules set no time limits on how long a school bus ride can be.
Spring-Ford Superintendent David Goodin said the district strives to make all bus runs under an hour and said because the schools have different start times, the routes are made to be as efficient as possible.
But Dougherty, who said she pays $12,000 a year in taxes and should get better service for her money, argued that a bus ride of nearly an hour to travel two miles cannot be considered efficient.
“And sometimes they have to sit three to a seat,” said DiRico. “Everybody’s working and this is inconvenient. We should get tax reduction.”
After the meeting, School Board President Tom DiBello told the mothers he would look into the matter and see if he could find them a better answer.
Students from St. Aloysius Catholic School dodge rain drops to board buses provided by several different school districts.
Pope John Paul II High School parents, from left, Colleen O’Brien, Melissa Dougherty and Lisa DiRico, all attended Sept. 24’s Spring-Ford Area School Board meeting to advocate for shorter bus rides for their children.