Filippelli responds to taxpayer’s busing concerns

Filippelli responds to taxpayer’s busing concerns

LINCOLN – Transportation for Lincoln schools is running as efficiently as possible without making any major changes, says the district’s superintendent, responding to a parent concerned about taxpayer money being spent on buses transporting only one or two students.

The parent, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, told The Breeze of several instances in which it appeared one bus was being used to transport just one or two students, asking why that burden should be placed on the taxpayers.

“I echo their concern. I’m a taxpayer, too,” Supt. Lawrence Filippelli said. “I understand, but we also have to provide transportation for every kid. … It’s not an inexpensive part of the budget.”

This year’s transportation budget totals $3.4 million, which includes busing for special needs, athletics, and field trips as well as regular routes to and from the schools.

The parent, who has a special needs student, pointed out that earlier this year, the district made changes to its special education programs in an effort to save money.

“We all understand trying to be fiscally responsible,” they said. “As taxpayers, we want our tax dollars to be spent wisely.”

The parent said they heard that Lincoln was looking to add another bus to take a student to North Providence High School from Lincoln to participate in a health program, and questioned why they couldn’t go to Davies and why Lincoln taxpayers had to pay for their bus.

Filippelli confirmed that a family moved to Lincoln, and the district is required to transport the children to North Providence High School for a P-Tech program, which focuses on healthcare and lets students graduate with both a high school diploma and a free associate’s degree from the Community College of Rhode Island.

Because it’s a Rhode Island Department of Education-approved Career and Technical Education program and because North Providence is in a RIDE-regulated zone, Lincoln is required to provide transportation, he said.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Filippelli said. “There’s no getting around that one.”

“It kills districts,” he added. “I fought with Ken Wagner when he was the commissioner (at RIDE). … If we had a similar program, which we don’t, they shouldn’t be going anywhere (else).”

The superintendent said there are instances in which a bus may transport only one student. If an individualized education program team, for example, deems that a student should go to a specialized program, such as the East Bay Collaborative, it’s the district’s responsibility to provide transportation and pay for statewide transportation.

“A lot of folks don’t understand that,” he said. “They look at buses and see their tax dollars being burned. I totally get it.”

Also according to the parent, two students in a “before the bell” band program for exceptional students at Northern Elementary school in Lincoln, both who play drums, were “bragging about having their own special bus for them and their drums” because the instruments were too big to be transported on a regularly scheduled bus.

“We’re not suggesting the students can’t ride the bus, but since it is only their drums that are preventing the children from riding the bus, why do we taxpayers have to pay for the transportation of these two musical instruments?” the parent said. “How is that extra cost fiscally responsible?”

Filippelli said that observation didn’t sound right to him and suggested The Breeze ask Sam Levy, branch manager for First Student, the bus company for the district.

Levy confirmed that two students and their drums were being transported by a bus one day a week but “that’s not being done anymore.” He said other arrangements are being made to transport those students.

The call was made by the district, not First Student, he said. “We don’t make that decision.”

Filippelli asserts that the district is operating in a fiscally conservative manner and said a transportation study conducted last year was one way to ensure this. The company that conducted the audit told school officials that the district is running as efficiently as possible without making one of several major changes, Filippelli said.

Requiring some students to walk to school would eliminate a couple of buses and generate a couple hundred thousand dollars in savings, but Filippelli said that option is not ideal.

“We have extremely busy roads,” he said, and having students walk to school in Lincoln is nearly impossible because of the lack of sidewalks.

Another option would be to combine runs so that middle and high school students ride together, but the superintendent said that scenario is “unpalatable for a lot of reasons.”

Because more families moved to town, Filippelli said there are 100 more students this year than there were last year at this time, which impacts transportation runs.

“We’re doing OK now but may have to increase a bus next year,” he said. He’ll know better when the district conducts an analysis in the spring.

He said any parents or taxpayers are welcome to contact him to discuss the issue more.

“I’m happy to sit with them,” he said.