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Attorney general says schools can't charge bus riders

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Indiana's attorney general said Monday that state law doesn't allow public school districts to charge students a fee for taking the bus to and from school.

That could pose a problem for school districts around the state that had been looking at the fees as one possible way to help them out of a financial bind caused by property tax caps and a $300 million cut in state education spending.

The opinion said school districts have no legal authority to assess and collect a fee for transportation to and from school so a student can receive a public education. Further, it says that transportation is part of "a uniform system of public education in Indiana."

"Such a fee is unconstitutional," the opinion said. It didn't specifically address charging bus fees for extracurricular activities.

Molly Butters, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Zoeller, said official opinions are intended to serve as guidelines for state officials and aren't legally binding.

"It's an opinion, nothing more than an opinion or an interpretation of the law," she said.

Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, said the opinion might not be binding, but it could give ammunition to a parent who decided to sue their school district over bus fees.

In either case, the nine-page document presents a complication for districts like Franklin Township Schools on the south side of Indianapolis, which had been counting on charging a bus fee of about $75 per rider beginning this fall. Districts in Hobart and Munster in Lake County already charge for transportation, he said.

The Associated Press left a phone message seeking comment from Franklin Township Schools Superintendent Walter Bourke.

The growing district, saddled with construction debt, had been hit hard by a 1-percent residential property tax cap that went into effect this year, as well as the state budget cuts announced last year, Costerison said.

"They're going to have to go back to the drawing board and try to figure out how they're going to take the dollars they have for regular transportation and make it work," he said.

Costerison said that the law doesn't require school districts to provide transportation except for special needs students, and Franklin Township and other districts might be forced to set strict limits — perhaps providing bus rides only for students who live more than a certain distance from school.

"The worse-case scenario is you don't have transportation at all," he said.

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  • What are the limits?
    My children attend a school that charges for bus transportation. I have 2 children and do not use any finanial aid. I will have to pay $200 dollars per child for the year thats $400. I work and have no choice but to pay. Its kinda hard to scrape up that kind of money on top of $200 for book fees.
  • taxes
    Mitch can increase our sales taxes again like he did in 2007 and help Public Schools get more money, more money, more money
  • I am engaged and still don't like having to pay!
    I live in Franklin Township. I live within 1 mile of the school my children attend. My husband and I are both very engaged in what our children do - their homework, the after school programs that I PAY FOR OUTSIDE OF THE TAXES WE PAY, their moral and religious formation. But unfortunately, we both have to work. We don't have the luxury of walking out children to school each day. There are NO sidewalks between where we live and school. There are no shoulders on the roads where the children can safely walk. You think your tax bill is high now - wait until children are permamently disabled because of injuries sustained trying to walk to school. Wait for the bill to come in for all the police overtime for the missing kindergartener who had to walk to school because people want to complain about their taxes going to public education. These children are the future tax payers who will be supporting us in the future. I say give them a solid and safe educational experience. Extra-curricular activities are another issue - I have no issue with the parents of those participating having to financially support those programs. But for the regular school day - yes, the community needs to support the children.
  • Education cures many ills
    Education and extra-curricular activities are the best defense society has against poverty, crime, and an uneducated populace deciding it's smart to vote themselves money (Gee, I want free health care. The government should pay for it. Or some rich guy should pay for it.).

    I'm in favor of anything (reasonably cost-effective) that makes education easier than getting into drugs and gangs.
  • Yeah... except there are no sidewalks
    I'm all for my kids walking to school... But, we live in New Pal where most of the county roads are narrow and have no sidewalks. I wouldn't mind paying for the bus service, but don't be too quick to say "let them walk." There are too many places in this city where short-sighted leaders neglected sidewalks.

    This is also, IMO, why public transportation will never really take off in and around Indy.
  • Maybe parents would be more engaged if they had to either pay or be responsible for their kid's transportation to school
    I've never heard anything so ludacris as people wanting LITERALLY a free ride! Parents should pay even more of the cost of educating their kids. Living so far from the school that kids can't walk IS A PRIVILEGE. They should pay for the privilege. Not me, not my tax dollars and not the rest of the state where prudent folks might actually live within walking distance of their schools. I'm already spending a high proportion of my property taxes to subsidize baby factory people that just keep having kids without any realization for what it costs the rest of us. Maybe the $75 per kid won't change that, but at least they'll have to shoulder more of the economic burden for it.
  • Pay for School Busing
    The AG says it's not constitutional to charge everyone to ride the school bus, but he does say it's permissible to say there is no bus service for anyone living within 2 or 3 miles or 5 miles of the school. Would parents like that better?
  • Bus Fees
    I paraphrase from the IPS student handbook: "Bus transportation is a privilege, not a right." If there's no money to run the bus, then park it. OTOH, there was an editorial cartoon a while back; the bus mechanic was affixing signs to the bus; the caption read, IIRC: "Well, it's not NASCAR, but it pays the costs." Or something like that...
  • Use I-69 money
    First of all, I don't see much wrong with the idea. I think it is prudent to cover the cost in some fashion. Since schools are built in the communities they serve, what is wrong with having kids walk to school? Walking might pay benefits well beyond the cost of the diesel fuel. Like healthier kids, less air pollution, plus save tax dollars.

    But there is another source of funding, the Governor and INDOT are attempting to spend close to $700B on the new terrain I-69 in the SW part of the state. Another un-popular and completely unnecessary highway we can't afford. Why not re-allocate those funds to help support our schools and other transportation needs?

    Tell your representatives and the Governor to get smart about transportation funding and get off building more roads.
  • Bus Charge
    Charging for kids to ride the bus is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. My gosh . . . take some of the money the schools are putting into their football field redesigns and put it into transportation. I swear I read stuff like this and it makes my blood boil. Maybe the city could use the money they are throwing at the Pacers to offset the cost of $75 a child to ride a bus to school. What a mess.
  • we would not be the only ones
    San Diego and surronding counties charge for bus service to public schools. Why not save the tax payers money for other areas. Let the School transportation system be semi self supporting. I think it is a great idea.

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