LENOX -- When school bells ring on Aug. 30, local students will be picked up by the town’s school buses at or near their home, but parents are being strongly urged to register their children for the service by the second week of August.
Superintendent Edward W. Costa III told The Eagle this week that the new policy unanimously approved by the School Committee represents a change from the past, "when buses have run more like municipal transportation -- here are a set of the bus stops, if you want to ride it, great. What that means is, on any given day, we don’t know who’s on our buses."
"It’s free, but register," Costa declared. "We want to have a manifest of what children are on a bus, and should be on a bus, on any given day."
Accountability and transparency are his priorities, Costa explained, so he is asking parents to make their intentions known via the school system’s website, www.lenoxps.org, which has a link to the form that presents options to use the bus to and from school, just in the morning or only in the afternoon.
A direct afternoon bus from Morris Elementary School to the Lenox Community Center also may be available.
Costa said 98 percent of the parents who took part in an online survey committed to registering their students. The survey also showed that the longest school-bus ride deemed acceptable by parents was 30 minutes.
According to the superintendent, school-bus registration has been "par for the course" for many districts ever since the 9-11 terrorist attacks and, even earlier, the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. "A lot of that ‘know where your kids are every minute of the day,’ that’s when that movement started," said Costa.
"In Lenox, we’ve been very fortunate -- I’m not saying the past didn’t work," the superintendent added. "It worked well. But I want more accountability, knowing where our students are from the minute they leave mom and dad." The new policy covers all 800-plus Lenox students, K through 12.
Bus routes will be designed according to the registrations received by the mid-August deadline, Costa said. "If parents haven’t done it by that time, we’re not saying you can’t ride a bus, we’re simply saying we won’t design a route just for your stop or your residence. You may have to go down the street to where somebody else is. We’ve tried to make this very global and open."
Costa has already placed automated "robo" calls to all parents in the district twice, and plans a third call in early August, the week before the deadline. Parents without Internet access can call his office at (413) 637-5550 weekdays from 8 to 4 to register.
Based on registrations, the district may be able to reduce its bus runs by one morning route, since some parents choose to drive their students to school.
Potential savings of up to $46,750 by consolidating and reorganizing routes and reducing bus vehicles used from four to three may be possible, Costa said. The cost of all bus routes for the 2012-13 school year is $187,020.
But student safety will always be the top priority, he said, as well as holding bus runs to a 30-minute maximum for the most distant students.
"Several things, checks and balances, would have to work out, but I’m hopeful, that’s why you collect data, to see if things are plausible," he said, noting that the school system’s vendor, Dufour, has been extremely helpful and flexible.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 496-6247. On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.