No bus service may mean no choice school
When Jeanne Goodfellow of Viera received an email less than two weeks before school started that her daughter would not have busing to her school of choice, she was frantic.
“I am a working single mom and there is no way I can get my daughter there. It was great that she got in to that great school, but now that may be for nothing if I cannot get her there and back,” Goodfellow said. Daughter Caroline Zeek attends eighth grade at Edgewood Junior/Senior High School on Merritt Island, while daughter Catherine Zeek is in fifth grade at Manatee Elementary.
The Brevard County School Board began looking into possible solutions at the Aug. 9 board meeting. The first step is to have choice schools organize carpools in the interim.
Parents received the email from their schools, forwarded by Mark W. Mullins, Ed.D., deputy superintendent and COO of the school district. A & S Transportation was planning to provide the transportation but issued a letter to the parent group coordinating the service that it could not do so.
Parents previously paid $1,250 per year per student to School Wheels Direct, which closed in May at the end of the last school year. Last year, Goodfellow dropped her daughter off at the Publix at Stadium Parkway parking lot and headed on to work while the bus made the long trip to the choice school.
The head of the parents group, Laene Keith, jumped into action when she learned of the drop in service by the new provider. She reached out to a beloved former driver with the previous company, Doug Anderson. She hopes he will provide the service if there is enough interest from parents whose children need corridor busing to Edgewood and Stevens Stevenson Elementary School of the Arts, also on Merritt Island. Anderson has formed his own company, Safety First Student Transportation, LLC, and said he will look into expanding services based on parent interest.
“Choice Schools and programs are certainly facing a transportation hardship and we need all the help we can get raising awareness,” Keith said.
If there is enough interest, the service could start with Safety First in October, still leaving a gap in service. Edgewood and other choice schools have reported a drop in enrollment from families unable to fill the gap, Goodfellow said.
“For now, we will work together carpooling with other parents to make it happen,” Goodfellow said.
She and fellow mom Aimee Koshlap, whose daughter Reilly also attends eighth grade at Edgewood, will help each other and also work to seek a permanent, more beneficial solution that will benefit all students in Brevard through the school district.
Michelle Irwin, communications director for Brevard Schools, said while the district has been directed by the board to research possible solutions, there is no indication the board will direct the district to pay for it.
“We said during the budget cut in 2013, which eliminated busing for choice schools, that parents would be responsible for arranging corridor busing and paying for it. That has not changed,” Irwin said. She clarified that recent funding increases would not be used for that purpose.
“The half-cent sales tax has specific items that it funds and cannot be used for this purpose. We recently received more money from county property tax, it is true, but you have to realize that this money came with required funding objectives that actually left us with less money to spend on other items,” Irwin said.
The School Board will host special meetings to look into a permanent solution, Irwin said, but any efforts will be to assist parents who want their children to go to choice schools, and is not intended for the district to take over payment for the busing service or provide the service directly.
“It would take $1.2 million to add buses, and more on top of that to hire additional drivers and pay operations costs,” Irwin said. “We just don't have that. If we were to pay for it, the money would have to be taken away from some other service.”
Goodfellow and other parents are hoping to arrange at least some sort of subsidy to offset the cost.
For more information, contact the School Board office at 321-633- 1000, ext. 401. Parents who are interested in using the corridor service to Edgewood and Stevens can contact Anderson directly at email@example.com to submit a seat reservation request along with the student name, home address, school, and parent phone number and email address.