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February 26, 2009

Schools eye $250 fee for bus ride

The free ride could soon be over for many Gloucester schoolchildren.

A $250 annual bus fee for elementary school and middle school students has been proposed by the public school system as it cuts costs to make up for reduced state aid and sagging city revenues.

The fee would be charged any kindergartner through eighth-grader who lives less than two miles from their school and wants to ride the bus. Those in sixth grade or lower who travel longer distances are entitled to a free ride by state law.

The change would bump up the current $100 price of a bus pass for seventh- and eighth-graders. High schoolers who use CATA buses would not be affected by the change.

Even within the two-mile mandated area, according to the proposal, space on city school buses would be reserved for students in kindergarten through second grade who live more than one mile from school, and third- through fifth-graders who live between 11รขÑ2 and two miles. Middle schoolers living less than two miles from school would be provided rides, with a fee, "if space permits."

The proposal as drafted also says:

Per-student cost of bus passes will be capped at $500 per family.

Students eligible for reduced lunch will pay $175 per rider, with a $350 family cap.

Students eligible for a free lunch will pay $100 per rider with a $200 family cap.

One-way passes will be available for $150, space permitting, for students who will either get rides one way, or who need transport to an after-school activity.

The fee proposal had been rumored for months, and was rolled out Wednesday night before the School Committee.

After a vetting in the Building and Finance subcommittee, the proposal is expected to come up for a vote by the School Committee this spring.

Gloucester School Committee Chairman Greg Verga said yesterday that he had not decided whether he would vote to back the plan and was particularly torn by the thought of hiking another fee that affects so many residents.

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