Schools offers bus alternative - Parents

December 1, 2008 3:48:09 PM PST
With budgets tight, one local county has found new ways to save big money, by changing the way some little children get to school. As part of it, parents get paid to take them.Callie Gnerre drives her daughter Emily to and from pre-school each day. And she's reimbursed for mileage. Last month, she got a check for $147.

"I'm very excited about it, that I can take her to school," Gnerre said. "In fact, I've been telling other parents."

The program is for Putnam County parents of children with special needs in early intervention and pre-school. Emily has down syndrome. At school, special services, such as occupational therapy, maximizes potential.

It's all government-funded, including door-to-door transportation. Last year, that meant taking one bus each way. But Putnam health officials changed that after learning transportation costs for the 90 children in the programs would increase by about $1 million a year.

"We were going to end up spending more on transportation than we were actually going to spend on providing the services that these children need," Putnam County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler said.

Blame fuel surcharges, officials say. Each bus needs an attendant, and sometimes only one or two children were on a bus going 50 miles away.

Now, parents are paid 58.5 cents a mile to drive. A bus costs $3.63 a mile. The difference per year for a 30-mile round trip is $5,000 versus $30,000.

Where parents can't drive, some bus routes are now consolidated, adding a transfer point. For example, one bus takes Thomas Soehnlein from his Mahopac home to Carmel. There, he joins other children on a bus to his White Plains school. It's a longer trip, about an hour and 15 minutes each way.

"This way my taxes don't go up," parent Carol Soehnlein said. "He likes it. He likes the bus ride, so I can't really complain about it."

The changes will save county taxpayers more than $600,000 a year.

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STORY BY: Eyewitness News education reporter Art McFarland

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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