The St. Michael-Albertville school district’s board room was full last Tuesday evening, as parents from St. Michael’s Tributary Crossing neighborhood came to lobby for an expansion of open enrollment bussing into their neighborhood for next school year.
The two-year trial of open enrollment bussing in Albertville has been well-received, according to the district’s transportation director, Wayne Hoistad. He said 355 students participated in the bussing program last school year and 436 this year. He said 52 of this year’s additional bussers were new open enrollees.
However, the trial program was limited to Albertville neighborhoods and some Otsego neighborhoods adjacent to the Albertville/Otsego boundary, which is the geographic area that lobbied for this service and has been seeking a transportation option for more than a decade. Now St. Michael’s Tributary Crossing neighborhood is entering the fray and requesting that the district expand the program to their area.
The school district surveyed 29 families in the Tributary neighborhood and found 25 families interested in the option for a total of 53 students. 36 of those students currently attend and STMA, and another 17 students would consider open enrolling if bussing were available. Hoistad said these 53 additional bus riders would bring in approximately $10,000 in revenue toward the open enrollment bussing program without needing to add a bus route.
“Talking with Don’s Bus, we wouldn’t have to add any routes,” Hoistad said. “We would be able to absorb these students on existing routes.”
How much does the open enrollment bussing program cost?
Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said before they offered this program, the STMA school district used to transport open enrolled students, free of charge, from designated stops within the district. She said state statute requires school districts to transport students if they go to an in-district route. Parents used to drive their students to one of three designated stops for open enrolling families. Those stops have been eliminated with the addition of the paid bussing program. The district estimates they used to transport approximately two routes of students who were mostly open enrolled students, and now they transport an additional 2.5 routes of open enrolled students with the new bussing program in place.
The cost of one two-tier bus route for the school year currently costs $46,500; two-tier means that the bus makes an earlier run for elementary students and then goes out for secondary students.
Hoistad said the open enrolled transportation program brought in $82,000 in user fees the first year and close to $94,000 this year, and he said the program is “very close” to breaking even. However, to ensure they are not losing money on the program, district administrators are recommending a fee increase in open enrollment transportation for next school year. The current rates are $300 for one child and a $500 family maximum, and administration is proposing an increase to $350 for one child and a $550 family maximum.
Board Member, Public Comments
School board members brought up several concerns about the proposed expansion of open enrolled bussing, including upcoming bridge construction, busses going through what many believe to be an unsafe intersection at SH 241 and O’Day Ave., and how the change might impact in-district families on those bus routes.
On the last issue, Hoistad said the bussing contract states students must not ride the bus more than 50 minutes on a typical route, and he said they would maintain that standard. He said bus routes typically start at the furthest point from the school on their route and work their way in, so in the case of the Tributary neighborhood, he said the Tributary students would likely be the earliest to board the bus in the mornings.
Several members of the public spoke in support of the open enrollment bussing program and of the proposed expansion. Towne Lakes residents spoke of feeling more a part of the STMA school community with the bussing option and said they know of families who planned to send their children to Otsego’s Prairie View school until they heard of STMA’s bussing option.
The board will vote on the fee increase and proposed expansion to open enrolled transportation on Monday, March 4 during the 7 p.m. school board meeting.