Vargas wants to bus more city students

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Rochester school district officials have asked the State Education Department for permission to change the district's transportation policy guidelines. Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says he wants to provide elementary students who live a half mile or more from their school with bus transportation. The current policy limits transportation to students who live a mile-and-a-half or more from their school, because that's what the state will reimburse. The district would cover the cost of the additional busing.

The district has been trying for several years to change the policy without exploding what is already one of its bigest fixed expenses. The district spends about $60 million annually on busing.

But Vargas went to Albany prepared to convince state officials that providing more busing is critical for an urban district like Rochester. First, Vargas says, attendance, which is already a huge problem in city schools, becomes even worse during the winter months, according to the district’s records.

Most parents in working poor households are not able to easily fill in when their children miss the bus, Vargas says.

“Transportation is an issue for many of the district’s families,” Vargas says. "Many parents don’t have a car or they don’t work at a job where they can adjust their schedules easily."

And third, providing more elementary students with transportation would encourage many families to choose their neighborhood school, Vargas says. Some parents don't pick their neighborhood school because they don't want their children walking through sketchy neighborhoods.

More busing will also be needed to accommodate longer school days, Vargas says.

District officials say they are confident the state will allow them to adjust the policy, and they expect to hear a response to their request by mid June.

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