School board looks to lower walking distances

The Milford Board of Education seems to be favoring a move to let more students ride the school bus.

On Oct. 12, the board reviewed costs associated with lowering the distances for students who are considered “walkers” and asked school administrators to draft a new policy that would reflect that change.

A number of board members, during an informal poll by Chairman Susan Glennon at Monday’s board meeting, favored a plan that would lower walking distances from 2 miles to 1.5 miles for high school students; from 1.5 miles to 1 mile for middle school students, and the elementary school distances would stay the same at 1 mile. Students beyond those distances would be able to ride the bus.

The cost associated with the change is $288,000. It would allow another 250 students to ride the bus: those students are currently walkers.

The board will still have to review a new policy and vote on it. The policy will be presented at the board’s meeting Oct. 26. After a second reading of the policy the board can vote on it.
Parent input
Walking distances drew criticism from parents last year when the board decided to more strictly enforce walking distances and take students off the bus who had been riding.

Those changes stemmed from 2012, when several board members were focused on cutting transportation dollars to make room for what they saw as more direct education spending.

The efforts did cut costs: Chief Operations Officer James Richetelli Jr. said the schools have saved more than $165,000 per year over the last two years on various transportation reductions.

Richetelli presented two transportation scenarios Oct. 12 at the board’s request. The board ultimately seemed to favor the second option, which added more student bus riders than option 1 would have. Option 1 would have reduced walking distances from 2 miles to 1.5 miles at the high schools but left middle school at 1.5 miles and elementary at 1 mile.

That option would have added 187 new riders to the buses and cost $216,000.
Some numbers
Richetelli, a former mayor of Milford, was careful to point out that the board’s decision regarding walking distances is “a financial matter.”

The current transportation budget, not including special education transportation, is $1,985,654. That breaks down to 125 bus runs and more than 1,005 bus stops each school day.

This year, the Milford Board of Education transports 4,180 students to school by bus. The cost per bus is $46,590, and is expected to increase to $47,985 in 2016-17.
Board views
Minority Leader John DeRosa (R-1) said he wanted administration to ask city officials to build more sidewalks in the city, thus eliminating some of the safety hazards that keep some would-be walkers from walking to school.

But Glennon said she didn’t really think parents have been complaining so much about obstacles their children face — though that has been mentioned.

“I’m hearing parents say that two miles is too far,” Glennon said.

At the start of Monday’s meeting, several parents spoke about their concerns. One resident said a 1.5 mile walk in the morning is too long: She said she is a teacher and that children need to be ready to learn when they get to school, not tired from a long walk.

Another parent said her house is 1.7 miles from school, and she invited board members to come over, carrying their lunch, possibly an instrument and a bag of books, and take the walk.

Carol Thomas said city sidewalks are not all shoveled in the winter. Her son was almost hit by a truck walking home from school last year because sidewalks weren’t shoveled. Bob Thomas concurred, saying his son had to leap into the snow to avoid being hit.

Bob Thomas added that times have changed since walking distances were set in the 1950s. “There are more people and cars,” Thomas said.

Matthew Pastir said he took the school bus from the same neighborhood he lives in now when he was a student. He thinks a 1.9 mile walk, especially in bad weather, is too far.

Board member Jennifer Federico (D-2) agreed with the parents, saying she thinks two miles is too far to walk. “That could be a 50 or 60 minute walk easily,” she said.

Anthony Piselli (R-3) agreed it is too far.

Dr. Heidi Gold-Dworkin (D-4) asked if the board had considered electric or hybrid buses, and Richetelli pointed out that the capital outlay for new buses would be cost prohibitive.

Gold-Dworkin also asked if the board had considered changing the start time at the high schools to 10 a.m., for example, to allow for rearranging bus schedules and possibly making them more efficient.

Dr. Feser referred to studies that suggest high school students do indeed need more sleep than younger students, but she said having them start later would impact sports and other after-school schedules.