Plans to create designated bus routes to get thousands of Dayton high-schoolers to class — which the board of education president identified as the district’s No. 1 priority — are on hold after school officials said they are reconsidering.
That’s according to emails between Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority and Dayton Public Schools officials sent last week and obtained by the Dayton Daily News.
In the emails, Dayton schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli says her board members are considering buying RTA bus passes for high school students instead of paying the transit agency to create the designated “Yellow Line.”
That lead the RTA to halt the planned expansion, pending final word from the school district, RTA officials said on Wednesday.
“If we delay there is no way we will be ready for the start of school,” responded RTA CEO Mark Donaghy, saying in the emails that it takes two months to train new drivers.
“So your board members know, simply buying passes is not at all the same as moving students from neighborhoods directly to the schools unless they are lucky enough to live on a bus route that also serves their school,” Donaghy says in the emails.
Lolli explains in the emails that two of her board members are hesitant to proceed with the plan the majority of board already approved on May 28 to re-establish the Yellow Line.
“Bus passes may end up being their choice so can you delay for a month?” Lolli asks Donaghy. “We might have to start (Yellow Line) buses after school starts because of this glitch.”
Lolli is out of the office this week and couldn’t be reached for comment.
On May 28, the only two board members who didn’t vote for the Yellow Line were Sheila Taylor and John McManus. Taylor was absent from the meeting. McManus said he couldn’t support the plan because it went back on a commitment he made to union leaders who helped him and other board members get elected.
Neither McManus nor Taylor returned calls seeking comment on Wednesday.
The Yellow Line plan passed with support from the other five board members. Board President William Harris said it was the district’s No. 1 priority and needed to combat the district’s abysmal absenteeism rate.
“We’re going to make the best decision we can to make sure students are transported,” Harris said when reached by phone Wednesday. He would not disclose which board of education members were pushing them to instead consider bus passes.
The plan called for the school district to pay RTA $4.1 million next year and $3.2 million each year after that to hire drivers and repurpose old buses to create routes designed specifically to get high school students to school.
RTA provided the Yellow Line until 2008, when it was cut for budget reasons. Currently the Dayton school district provides no transportation to high school students. RTA estimated about 2,630 students would use the service on a daily basis.
Lolli’s emails ask instead about the cost of just buying RTA bus passes for those students. RTA officials respond that student passes — which can’t be used to transfer at the RTA hub downtown — run from $30 to $40 a month.
Donaghy made clear that RTA will not put additional buses on the roads or change RTA routes to accommodate high school students without a contract with DPS.
RTA Business Development Director Brandon Policicchio says in the email exchange that buying bus passes would fall short of helping kids get to school.
“There will be students not served and many will be required to walk long distances and/or make transfers downtown, leading to long travel times both to and from school,” Policicchio says. “On top of this, bell times will not be coordinated and on RTA’s schedule, leading to additional travel times for students.”