September 8 2020

School Department Addressing Capacity Issue by Excluding Some Students from Busing Based on Distance from School

By: Rich Hosford

The Burlington School Department is making some last-minute decisions about transportation and parents should find out Wednesday whether their child will have a seat on a bus. 


Superintendent Eric Conti and Director of Operations Bob Cunha gave the School Committee an update on the situation during Tuesday night’s meeting. 


They said the issue is that due to social distancing they have to space students out in the buses. This means that each bus can now only carry about 21-23 students at a time, a bit more if there are siblings on the bus because they are allowed to sit together. 


Adding more buses, if they are available, would be costly. Cunha said each bus is about $60,000 per year, or roughly $5,000 per month, and that due to the distancing requirements each bus would only be able to transport roughly 70 to 75 extra students over three routes. The number of students that are facing being cut from the bus system due to space requirements is 425 according to numbers provided at the meeting. 


The method they used to determine who will be cut is based on how far from the school students live. They made a list of all the students who are eligible for bus rides - discounting any who have opted for full remote or whose parents said in a survey over the summer that they would not be using the transportation. They then made a circle, with the school in the middle, and expanded it until the number of students they needed to be cut fell within its borders. Anyone in the distance of the circle will not be offered transportation while the social distancing measures are in place. 


The actual distance varied from school to school. Here is what they said they found out in the study: 


- Fox Hill: Had 84 students over capacity and the circle went out 0.81 miles. 

- Pine Glen: Had 46 students over capacity and the circle went out 0.53 miles.  

- Memorial: Had 56 students over capacity and the circle went out 0.75 miles. 

- Francis Wyman: Had 159 students over capacity and the circle went out 0.715 miles.

- Marshall Simonds Middle School: Had no students over capacity. 

- Burlington High School: Had 80 students over capacity and the circle went out 1.34 miles. 


Conti said parents will be alerted on Wednesday whether their children fall within the distances listed above. 


There was a question as to why they chose to use the circle, which gives distances that are “as the bird flies” instead of the actual distances of a route from a student’s house to the school. Cunha said they considered different models and decided this one was the most equitable. Conti added that this was also how the state recommends districts handle this issue. 


Members of the School Committee said that while they prefer to offer all students transportation they were behind the proposed plan. 


“I support this,” member Tom Murphy said. “It seems like the most equitable way to do it.”


Committee Chair Christine Monaco acknowledged that it will be a struggle for some families and asked for everyone to be patient. 


“I think it’s going to be a rough start, bus wise, and would ask everyone to be patient and keep us informed and we’ll work it out together,” she said.


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