By Curt Peterson
The Windsor Central Union Unified School District (WCSD) board members concerned themselves with money on Monday, Jan. 7.
Director of Finance and Operations Jim Fenn listed three expense areas currently over budget, although overall spending is on target.
“We’ve hired two additional teachers,” Fenn said, “but they were needed because of increased enrollment.”
Raph Adamek, director of instructional technology, reported a net increase of 11 students for the second half of the school year.
Besides additional faculty, Fenn said, food service costs have risen due to the added labor expense of serving meals in classrooms, and because the price of the food has risen sharply. Facilities-wise, he said, start-up costs for The Prosper Valley School were higher than anticipated, and maintenance of the high school building is onerous.
Much of the meeting was about transportation —busing students to and from the six campuses costs the district more than $500,000, according to Superintendent Sherry Sousa. Vermont school districts are not required to provide student transportation to and from school. Statutes only require each board to have a transportation policy, which may or may not include providing transportation. For example: In New Hampshire, districts are required to bus students who live more than two miles from campus through eighth grade.
The WCSD policy is to provide transportation for students with an eye to equity in use of resources.
Board secretary Rayna Bishop received more than 200 calls last fall from parents requesting additional stops. Many wanted their students picked up at their homes. Sousa said this is a cost and scheduling issue —each additional bus costs the district about $55,000, and there is such a shortage of qualified drivers that a couple of routes had no bus service at all when their regular driver was out sick.
The current routes often have less than a minute between stops, which, Sousa said, adds unnecessary expense, extends the time students are on the buses, and causes the six schools to have uncoordinated starting times.
A manager from Butler’s Bus Service, which provides the district’s transportation under contract, and administrators met to develop a new scheme. Starting in September 2022 bus stops will be at least a mile apart, and the routes will start at 6:40 a.m. or later, allowing all schools to start by 8 a.m.
No student will be on a bus for over an hour — the longest route will start in Plymouth, go to Pittsfield, then end at Killington Elementary School. Elementary, middle school and high school students will ride on the same buses for some routes.
Sousa said the criteria for choosing the new bus stops include safety, room for parents’ cars to wait for the bus, and no stops less than a mile from the destination. Students must disembark at a designated bus stop — they may no longer ask the driver to “let me off here.”
One bus route will begin at Downer’s Corner in Perkinsville, and travel through Hartland to Route 4 and the Taftsville Store.
Sousa said campus principals will be reviewing the proposed bus schedule and rules, followed by a public information event. Her goal is to have the stops and times in parents’ hands this April.
“The change is going to require some traveling by parents to get their students to the new stops,” Sousa said. “We hope by getting the information out this early, they will be able to form groups to ease the strain on individual families.”