SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 6, 2014

Peabody mom wants to meet school bus fee halfway

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — Up to now in Peabody if you wanted your kids to take the bus to school you had to buy a round-trip ticket. The problem is, many only use the bus one way. And that’s left at least one parent wondering why she must pay full price for a service her kids would utilize less than half the time.

“It became an issue for me when my child went to high school,” explains Amy Sliva. She drives her daughter to school in the morning and in the afternoons arranges for her to get a ride home. “I would like her to have the option to take the bus home. ... I’m not going to buy a pass if she’s not going to use it 80 percent of the time.”

Moreover, Sliva has another child who will soon be attending high school.

The cost is not a small matter in most households. A bus pass costs a parent $300 per school year. For parents with more than one student on the bus, the cost tops out at $600. “The point is just to have options,” she says. Other parents, whose children play sports or have after-school activities, find themselves paying for round trips that just aren’t available to their kids. By the time their activities are done there is no bus available.

Sliva isn’t sure if the cost would be halved for a one-way ticket, but if not she hopes it would at least be substantially reduced. She notes that some surrounding cities and towns already give parents the benefit of one-way passes, including Salem, Beverly and Wakefield. Beverly, she says, “Does cut the price in half.” She adds that the Beverly program has run smoothly for years.

That’s confirmed by Beverly’s transportation manager Bill Burke, who says, “It seems to work well.” More important, he says, is the assistance given to families.

“It’s certainly designed to help the parents,” he said.

He adds that it’s especially helpful for parents with jobs and kids scattered at various schools.

A member of the Parent Advisory Board, Sliva presented her proposal for one-way passes to the Peabody School Committee at its most recent meeting and was cheered by the response.

“I haven’t found anyone that doesn’t think it makes sense,” she said.

The committee voted unanimously to study the idea, asking business manager Dave Keniston to examine the logistics and the financial impact.

Having a mom like Sliva buy a one-way pass would actually add cash to the school’s transportation budget. But others, reducing the amount they pay, could result in a fiscal shortfall. That’s one of the factors to be considered in instituting such a policy.

“We’re asking our business manager to come back with the facts and to figure out if this is financially feasible,” says School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne.

Griffin Dunne notes that the city provides bus service costing $53,000 per year and already takes kids at distances less than the state mandate of two miles.

“We will bus at a mile and a half,” she said.

School Committee member Brandi Carpenter, who supports the proposal, hopes to see Keniston’s report at the March 12 meeting.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she says. “It’s a choice that should be available to the parents.”

Staff Writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.