Up to 450 students who ride bus to school may walk next year

Some Milford students who have been riding the bus to school may have to walk next year.

In a move to cut the transportation budget and to make the transportation policy fair for all students, the Board of Education voted this week to let Chief Operations Officer James Richetelli Jr. notify parents of 180 students that they will not be picked up for school starting next school year.

That number is expected to increase after Richetelli talks to other city officials about increasing safety along other walking routes. He said about another 270 students – for a total of about 450 students -- will likely be cut from the bus run schedule once certain accommodations are made.

The Board of Education did not make the decision to cut some students willy-nilly. Rather, they hired retired police investigator Daniel Sharoh, who looked at 1,086 bus stops in Milford and submitted a lengthy report suggesting which ones could be eliminated.

The city currently buses 4,961 students, Sharoh wrote in his report.

“Of these students a total of 1,086 students have been identified to live within designated walking distance to their respective schools,” he added.

High school students who live within two miles of their school are supposed to walk; for middle school the distance is 1.5 miles, and for elementary school the distance is one mile.

According to the report, there are no safety concerns for 180 of those students currently being bused to school.

Another  270 or so could be reclassified if a crossing guard is added or moved along their walking route, or if crosswalks are painted in the proper place. For the remainder, there are safety concerns along their walking route, so Sharoh suggests they continue to be bused to school.

Richetelli said he plans to contact the police department and the public works department to talk about hiring or moving crossing guards and painting crosswalks where they are needed. When that is accomplished, he plans to send letters to those 270-or so additional students who can also be reclassified as walkers.

During this year’s school budget process, the school board voted to eliminate two school buses, and Richetelli said this is part of the process toward achieving that.

The recommended bus run cuts mostly affect older students. There are only two elementary schools affected: Orchard Hills, where five students will become walkers, and Pumpkin Delight, where 13 students will become walkers.

The biggest changes would be at East Shore and West Shore middle schools, where 105 and 111 students will be reclassified as walkers once those safety modifications are complete. At Harborside, 32 will become walkers. At Foran, 94 students will be reclassified as walkers, and at Law 71 will be reclassified as walkers. Seven students at St. Gabriel’s Parochial School also will have to start walking to school.

“There are whole neighborhoods that can become walkers,” Richetelli said, explaining the high numbers for some schools.

Board member Laura Fucci was very concerned about reclassifying bussers to walkers. She said weather has been extreme and that students often carry heavy backpacks. She said walking two miles to school in the pouring rain could hamper a student’s ability to learn.

Other board members sympathized to some extent, but they pointed out that those concerns address the transportation policy. On Monday night, the board was in essence voting to uphold the existing policy and the approved walking distances: they were not debating the policy.

“You can’t be applying the policy differently for different students,” Chairman Susan Glennon pointed out.

Tracey Casey added that the issue is “people are getting busing when they shouldn’t be.”

Fucci also said that eliminating the bus runs just means that parents will be driving their children to school, and that will lead to more congestion in the school parking lots.

Casey understands the issue. She lives 1.9 miles from Jonathan Law High School, so her children are walkers. “I drive my kids the 1.9 miles to school,” she said.

There is congestion in the school parking lot when she and other parents drop their children off, and Casey expects it may get worse.

“It’s a problem already,” Casey said, “but we’re living with it.”

Board member Dr. Heidi Gold-Dworkin doesn’t think walking is a bad thing, especially today when many young people don’t get enough exercise.

“To have students walk 20 to 30 minutes is actually very healthy,” Gold-Dworkin said.

Parents will get letters informing them of the changes, and there is an appeal process for parents.