INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - $475 is what it'll cost to have one child ride the bus – for a year – in Franklin Township.
The school district no longer offers bus transportation, and they've leased their buses and transportation center, too.
"We've sold those buses to CIESC with two provisions," says Franklin Township Superintendent Walter Bourke. "The first provision is they can only transfer Franklin Township students. The second provision is that if we want the buses back, we can buy them back for what we sold them for — which was $1."
|MEETING TONIGHT | 7 p.m., Franklin Central High School auditorium|
The failure of a referendum meant the district had to make extreme cuts from the transportation budget.
"We warned people what would happen," said Superintendent Bourke. "We've vowed to keep money in the general fund in place. That money pays for teachers and academics, not transportation. Transportation was once a property tax supported service and it has now become a user fee."
This resulted in the sale of the district's fleet of school buses to CIESC. A non-refundable registration fee of $20.00 per student is required with each student application. The annual transportation fee for one student in a family is $475. The fee for each student in the family thereafter is $405 annually. A monthly payment option is also available.
Executive Director of CIESC Mary Ann Dewan explained the situation this way: "No one wants to charge parents for busing, but the reality is that busing is expensive. Most of the expense comes in meeting the safety regulations, paying for the fuel, hiring drivers, as well as a lot of training to help drivers understand how to work with students. Franklin Township needed a long-term solution and this is what we could do."
Dewan went on to say, "We know there are angry parents, but we've also heard from hundreds and hundreds of parents thanking us for this service. There are parents with a need and while this won't be an option for everyone, it will work for some."
The number of students who have signed up for this service is not yet known. But when 24-Hour News 8 asked the superintendent how many students were bussed daily last year, Bourke said between 7,000 and 8,000 – depending on the time of year and what sports were in season.
Many angry parents have raised the concern of the constitutionality of this policy. Last summer, the Indiana Attorney General issued a legal opinion calling school bus fees unconstitutional.
"A public school corporation is not authorized to assess and collect a bus rider fee from a student in order for that student to receive transportation to and from the student's school to receive a public education," Attorney General Greg Zoeller wrote.
The opinion is not a legal decision, but is aimed at guiding state officials in their efforts to understand specific state statutes, policies and procedures.
Perhaps the most ominous piece to the district's transportation trouble is they aren't the only ones.
Dewan says CIESC has been contacted by more than 20 school districts – some are not even partner school districts – asking for help and advice for their similar issues.
"The property tax caps seriously affected these districts and a lot of them are just one to three years away from a similar situation to Franklin Township," said Dewan. "Most of the districts are exploring options on how to cut costs."
Dewan explained that her organization is helping school districts to explore regional efforts. For example, a regional service center might manage routing for several districts, which would save on staffing. Maintenance is another example. If districts could potentially consolidate maintenance, they could have just a few regional centers that maintain buses instead of facilities on-site for every single district.
"We don't know what will save money and what won't. That's why we're helping districts explore everything right now," says Dewan.
The agreement between Franklin Township and CIESC will last for one year. If the district determines it needs to be extended, then it will be.
7:30 A.M. UPDATE: Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox reports there were 20 slide-offs and five car crashes Friday morning, including one that left someone hurt. Many counties were reporting slide-offs.
A car ended up in the water early Friday morning, as drivers tried to make their way despite snow that fell overnight.
State police are warning Indiana residents about a phone scam that has been reported in central Indiana where grandparents are swindled out of money by con artists who tell them about a fake emergency.