Hinds to lead deep dive on school transport costs, inequities

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Every school day, students traveling through regional districts in Massachusetts have "miles to go," to quote poet Robert Frost. And Boston still has "promises to keep."

For years, the state has failed to provide 100 percent reimbursements for regional busing bills, as once promised to encourage mergers able to reduce school costs.

Now, a special commission co-led by state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, will embark on a 15-month study of the ways all Massachusetts school districts, including municipal ones, transport students.

The goal of the 11-member panel is to find ways to save, freeing up money for classroom investments.

"I'm casting a wide net," Hinds said Thursday. "Transportation is always near the top of local priorities. What are we doing in general about public school transportation?"

The panel, mandated by this year's budget bill, will report by December 2019 to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Education. Its recommendations are meant to be implemented in the 2020 budget.

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Between now and the end of 2019, the commission will look at practices in other states, hold five hearings, draft its report and consult with state education officials.

Hinds said that in examining how all public schools handle transportation, including travel outside of districts for special and vocational education, the panel hopes to find efficiencies.

Though regional school districts are promised full coverage for transportation, the reimbursement rose to only 80 percent this year. Municipal districts, on the other hand, get nothing.

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By taking a fuller look at transportation issues and costs, the panel may be able to build urban political support for what has at times been pushed aside as a rural problem.

"It was a broken promise," Hinds said of full reimbursement.

Hinds was named to the panel by Senate President Karen E. Spilka. His co-chair will be chosen by the House Speaker.

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Spilka said in a statement that Massachusetts needs "fundamentally sound and efficient student transportation." She termed that a building block of sound educational policy.

The law creating the panel says its recommendations must be based on a deep dive into how districts transport students, examine how they pay for that and propose ways to improve on all student transportation.

Gov. Charlie Baker will name members of the commission able to represent distinct perspectives. They include school committees, regional schools, superintendents, special ed advocates and school business managers.

The minority leaders of the House and Senate have already named their representatives: State Rep. Brad Hill, R- Ipswich, was appointed from the House and Superintendent Brian Forget of the Triton Regional School District was appointed by the Senate minority leader.

Other seats will be held by officials picked by the secretary of education and the commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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