St. Michael-Albertville School Board Declines Providing Transportation for Open Enrolled Students
After weeks of research and insight on open-enrollment transportation, the St. Michael-Albertville school board made a decision Monday night.
It was a full house at Monday night's St. Michael-Albertville Board of Education as parents from the Towne Lakes development in Albertville were in attendance to hear the final result on the provision of bus transportation to open-enrolled students from the neighborhood.
At an earlier meeting, the group of parents from Towne Lakes had presented to the board asking them to consider providing a route or stop for families that open enroll from that development.
While Towne Lakes is in the city of Albertville, it is not a part of St. Michael-Albertville School District. Town Lakes is, in fact, lumped with nearby Otsego neighborhoods and is part of the Elk River School District.
The projected number of open enrolled students for the 2012-13 school year is 464 students. Of that, 86 of those students come from Towne Lakes with a total of 250 students open enrolling from both Towne Lakes and the surrounding neighborhoods. There are other clusters of open enrolled students that come from Otsego, Hanover and Monticello, as well as certain students who travel beyond those neighborhoods.
"The school district isn't required to provide transportation to open enrolled students," Behle said, pointing to state statute that outlines options for districts when it comes to transportation.
Currently, the district has two stops outside of Towne Lakes, one on County Road 19 and another on County Road 37, where parents can drop their students off at to ride the bus. Behle shared that currently only 15 families from the Towne Lakes development take advantage of that.
Most other districts follow the same design, offering a bus stop that is already part of a route that parents can drive to, Behle said.
Parents at the meeting expressed concerns about the stop on County Road 37 as far as its safety. Behle and the school board agreed to look into that stop and perhaps offer an alternative with Don's Bus Service.
The district said it explored several options before deciding against busing.
"We've looked into the idea of charging a fee to offer a bus route however that can get tricky to manage," Behle said. Also any families receiving free or reduced lunch would either be exempt from the charge or have a reduced charge.
"There's also the budget piece. Even if we charged $260 a student that wouldn't cover an additional route," Behle said, adding the route could get expensive.
Don's estimated adding an additional route would cost the district $50,000, and without knowing exactly how many families within Towne Lakes would actually utilize the bus service it's unknown if one or two routes would be needed.
Behle recommended that the district not offer discretionary transportation to openly enrolled students, unless the district was going to open it up to all open enrolled students and not just Towne Lakes.
"How many additional dollars are we willing to spend here? This would mean either spending reserve money or long term reallocation," Behle said.
As School Board Chair Doug Birk opened the floor for public comments, Towne Lakes mom, Heather Libby has some questions.
"It appears open enrollment is increasing. Is this a good thing? I ask because I know from discussions within the neighborhood that if busing was provided, even more families within Towne Lakes would open enroll," she asked the board. "We live in Albertville and we want our kids to have that community connection to St. Michael-Albertville schools."
The school board discussion was consistent across the board. While each of the members understood the plight of the neighborhood, none felt there was any wiggle room.
"It's a slippery slope," Jeff Lindquist said. "I don't want it to appear that we are giving preferential treatment to one open enrolled community, and as soon as we offer to bus these students we'll have other communities asking as well."
Jeanne Holland agreed completely. "It would look like we are catering to Towne Lakes, and we are already making students walk and families drive who live within certain parameters of our schools," she said.
"Open enrollment is a hot-button issue around here," Holland added, noting that even though the district receives per pupil dollars for open enrolled students, they do not receive the bond money that taxpayers within the district pay as part of their property taxes.
"We have to think of our taxpayers, and specifically the ones who have to transport their students," she said.
Other steps could be made, but it requires local cooperation between districts, the board added.
"We have petitioned Elk River schools to take that community from their district and they won't give it up," Gayle Weber said.
"I came into the discussion hopeful, but we must make a policy that is good for the entire district," Birk said.