Public schools and K-12 and Education & Workforce Development and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Indiana school district expected to end bus fees

March 16, 2012

A cash-strapped Indiana school district that angered parents by turning its buses over to a not-for-profit that began charging for children to ride will likely end that practice soon.

Franklin Township Schools' pay-to-ride system would be prohibited under a bill Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to sign into law,

The district on Indianapolis' southeast side dropped free bus service at the beginning of the school year after voters rejected a property tax increase. Many parents drove their children to school rather than pay the $47.50 per month fee, creating traffic jams near schools during drop-off and pickup times.

Superintendent Walter Bourke said another bill provides a way for cash-strapped schools to pay for transportation by refinancing their debt.

"It's like if you have a house and go from a 15- to a 30-year mortgage. You pay less money per month so you have more available to pay for transportation," Bourke told WTHR-TV Channel 13.

Franklin Township's school board is scheduled to consider the bond refinancing plan at its March 26 meeting, he said.

A mother of two sued the district in November over the fees, which Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said violate the state constitution.

"I'm glad we're going to get our buses back," Lora Hoagland told The Indianapolis Star. "The sad thing is this community has been so divided over this. We have lost so many students out of the township."

Hoagland said she won't drop her lawsuit even though the buses are likely to start rolling again.

"They still need to be held accountable for this year," she said.

Republican Rep. Mike Speedy, whose Indianapolis district includes the Franklin Township schools, wrote the bill that bans school districts from handing buses to an outside company that charges parents for transportation.

Speedy said a judge or a state agency could order the district to reimburse parents who paid for bus service this year. The district has about $16 million to $17 million in its rainy day fund, Bourke told The Associated Press.

"I believe this year's transportation services should have been paid out of their rainy day fund," Speedy said. "I would not be surprised if I saw a governmental agency requiring the refund."

"That was a politically motivated comment," Bourke told the AP in response. He said the outside company, not the school district, had charged parents for bussing.

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