Editor’s Note: The Dayton Public Schools Board of Education recently approved a plan to spend more than $60 million addressing some of the district’s most pressing needs. This story looks at one of those spending priorities. Go here for the full story on the strategic plan.
Dayton Public Schools board President William Harris said the busing contract is “the No. 1 priority” in their recently approved, $60 million plan to improve the school district.
“If they don’t get to school, then they can’t learn, can’t pass the tests and graduate. It’s sort of a ripple effect,” he said.
Dayton high school students will ride on Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority buses for free to get to school next year. The school board voted to contract with RTA to re-establish the so-called “Yellow Line.” The district last offered RTA transportation to high school students a decade ago.
An analysis by RTA estimates about 2,634 students will use the service on a daily basis. The service will include up to 32 buses running a fixed route in the morning and afternoon. They will pick up and drop off up students at stops near their homes, and the route will include stops at or near Dayton high schools as well as charter and parochial schools.
The district will pay RTA $4.1 million next year and $3.2 million each year after that.
DPS Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said she hopes bringing back busing will increase attendance rates at the high schools significantly. An analysis released in February found absenteeism problems are crippling students’ ability to learn; of Dayton’s six high schools, four had more than 40 percent of their students absent more than 10 percent of the school year. Only Ponitz Career Technology Center and Stivers High School have chronic absentee levels below 40 percent.
Lolli said a major reason for that absenteeism was children had to pay bus fare to get to school.
“They just don’t have that kind of money,“ she said. “We’re hoping by us providing this that burden will be taken away from those families that can’t afford that and our students will come to school.”
“It’s not that our students don’t want to be in school, it’s just sometimes they can’t get to school.”
School board member John McManus opposed outsourcing high school busing because, he said, it would go back on a commitment he made to union leaders who helped him and other board members get elected.
Lolli said her administration estimated it would cost more than an additional $6 million a year for the district to bus high schoolers by hiring drivers and buying buses instead of contracting with RTA.
The RTA has been setting aside buses for some time with the expectation the yellow line would be restored.
“We’ve been preparing for this,” said RTA CEO Mark Donaghy.
He said the extra cost in the first year in the contract is to install cameras and other necessary equipment in the 32 buses they will use. They are also hiring about two dozen new drivers and a supervisor for this program, he said.
Donaghy said RTA will continue to offer discounted student bus passes as well.
Josh Sweigart is a member of the Investigation & Community Impact Team for the Dayton Daily News whose stories have focused on government waste, fraud, abuse and accountability. He's won several awards for investigative reporting, including an Emmy Award and numerous awards from the Associated Press Society of Ohio and Society of Professional Journalists. Contact him on Facebook or Twitter.