Free busing options for Dayton Public Schools high school students will begin on the first day of classes Aug. 12 but will include two phases requiring different passes on different Greater Dayton RTA bus routes, according to school officials.
Each of the six DPS high schools will distribute free RTA “LS Service” passes either at an orientation event or on the first day of school. Those passes will be valid during the first phase of the program, from Aug. 12 through Sept. 29.
During that timeframe, RTA will operate only their standard daily bus routes, with regular bus stop locations – not routes specifically designed to serve schools. DPS officials said during that first phase, the district will not replace student passes that are lost or stolen.
The second phase will go from Sept. 30 through the end of the school year, with students using a permanent student photo ID pass to ride new “limited-service” routes. RTA will offer specially designed routes through Dayton neighborhoods to better serve the six high schools – Belmont, Dunbar, Meadowdale, Ponitz, Stivers and Thurgood Marshall.
During both phases, the student bus passes will be usable within a morning window of 6 to 9:30 a.m. and an afternoon window from 2 to 5 p.m.
One of the big questions raised as DPS considered this program was whether students who stay late at school for sports, music or other extracurriculars would be eligible for free busing. An explanation of the plan released Monday by DPS tells students that the limited-service routes will end at 5 p.m., but adds there may be a later option for them to ride regular RTA routes for free.
“You may be eligible to earn an extended RTA bus pass from your high school if you have good attendance, no disciplinary issues, good grades and participate in extracurricular activities,” the district plan says.
DPS did not immediately answer more detailed questions about that option, such as what the standards for “good attendance” or “good grades” would be, over what period of time.
Regular RTA routes, which students can ride the first seven weeks of school, include bus stops within a block or two of each high school except Dunbar, where the nearest stop is about a half-mile away. But it may be difficult for students to get on those routes, if buses don’t go near their homes.
For the past several years, Dayton Public Schools has not offered busing to high school students, in part for financial reasons, but school board President William Harris called it “the No. 1 priority” a few months ago.
“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.
The school district’s new five-year contract with RTA calls for DPS to pay up to $801,730 to upgrade the limited-service buses. DPS will also pay the annual cost of the busing program, which the contract estimates at $3.2 million for the first year.
Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said she hopes bringing back busing will solve huge absenteeism problems – of Dayton’s six high schools, only Ponitz Career Technology Center and Stivers High School had chronic absentee levels below 40 percent.
“They just don’t have that kind of money“ to pay regular RTA bus fare,” Lolli said of students. “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.”