Experts: Prov. School Transportation is as Much as 30% Too High
Monday, October 07, 2013
Now, some parents -- and a former school board president -- are calling into question the school registration process as being in part responsible for creating the bussing issues at hand, including students facing longer bus rides, some of which are upwards of an hour, and busses not arriving to schools on time.
"Registration is a mess," said former school board president Kathy Crain. "Providence has an 80/20 policy (80% neighborhood, 20% non-neighborhood) to address segregation issues, but in my experience on the Board, most people with whom I spoke just wanted to send their kids to a GOOD neighborhood school. If all the schools were performing at an acceptable level, very few people would choose to send their kids on a 45 minute bus trip across the city, and the bussing system would not be as convoluted as it is."
Parents Questioning Registration Process
"We found that the current policies and practices, such as they are create significant constraints to efficient transportation operation," wrote the consultants, noting that, at the time, a lack of of staggered bell times was "exacerbated by a complex student enrollment and placement process which essentially allows students to attend schools of their choice, rather than their “home” school."
The company then identified under "Key Opportunities for Improvement" that the city "change student school assignment and placement policies consistent with a neighborhood school strategy."
Parent and advocate Kira Weidner Geene told GoLocal that parents had been strongly pushing for reforms in the the school registration process
"We have been working to improve student registration and placement with the district for years, even pushing them to create a "registration and placement oversight committee" that should have been in existence several years prior as outlined in the school board's student assignment plan."
"It is unfortunate, having been part of this committee last year and making recommendations of improvements, to find out that the district HAD this consultants report in Jan '13, and we were never privy nor shown this report during our active committee meetings," she continued. "Furthermore, as parent committee members we were dismayed by our lack of ability to recommend important agenda items (that directly related to issues parents were having with registering their children)."
Transparency Under Scrutiny
"As we have pointed out at oversight meetings, the existing practice in place for the processing of applications further conflates the issue of distancing children from their home schools. The end results mirror transportation costs and concerns raised by districts with an open enrollment policy," she said. "One problem is that even if a family would like their home school as a second choice, the way the lottery is run takes that option out of the equation for most. This creates an unnecessary zigzagging of children with long bus rides across the city not due to choice, but due to flawed practices. This is creating a burden on families, the budget, the transportation department at PPSD, neighborhoods and the environment and the city at large."
"Existing policy gives no guarantee that where you live is where you can school. Problematic for families looking to move to the area, plan for their children. Many families going private or even leaving the city as there are zero guarantees for their children's education. Not to mention this creates unnecessary transportation needs," Weidner-Greene continued.
Both Weidner-Greene, and former school board president Crain, say the current registration process leaves room for manipulation.
"There's a lack of transparency. Plain and simple," said Weidner-Greene. "No one can understand the process, families are no longer invited to watch the process, and facts change as if they are a living organism, not fixed. Wait lists are not made public. Movement on those lists is secretive and falls suspiciously in favor of politically connected parents who know how to get around the rules. There are no checks and balances with the wait list - it is not published and children are NOT moved off the wait list when spots are open, but at the end of the school year when families have already possibly made other choices."
Crain claimed that during her tenure during the Taveras Administration, "Political favors are often paid back by allowing politically connected students to "skip the line". It is a well-known practice that we tried to stop, but ultimately we were overruled by the Mayor's office, in violation of School Board policy. The Mayor's office violated School Board policy multiple times during that period, but nobody will talk about it because everyone is afraid of retribution. Unfortunately, until the School Department creates a system that cannot be manipulated, the corrupt practices will continue without proper oversight."
Data Show School Enrollment, Scattered Students
Working with the Providence Plan (see examples below), Murphy obtained data of student placements for the 2011-2012 school year. "This was the best way we could think of that gave a visual for the zig-zagged placement while preserving the privacy of children and their families. This would be a snap shot of last year and represents enrollment for entire schools," Murphy told GoLocal.
Murphy continued, "Efficiency depends upon all parts equally supporting the whole. If one or two parts are not in sync or optimized, it can drag the whole system down. We are seeing two parts, busing and registration, acting as proverbial wrenches, adversely affecting the system as a whole. Worse, these are the two components of the public education system that families encounter first. As Kira [Weidner Greene] states, ‘Registration is the front door to our public schools.’ The flaws with this departments practices, as detailed in the Bus Report, are clearly causing issues with transportation - stripping money and resources from our schools. All this before a child even sets foot in a public school."
Data show a mixed concentration of neighborhood students attending Frank Spaziano and being enrolled at other schools.
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