Iowa City School District resurrects Pay to Ride

BY ERIC LIGHTNER | JULY 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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Students forced to walk across unplowed sidewalks will have the option to catch a bus because the Iowa City School District recently resurrected its pay-to-ride program.

The program, which was shut down years ago, allowed parents within two miles of the school the option of having their children take the bus instead of walking to school for a per semester fee of $195.

Steve Murley, the superintendent of the School District, said the program is designed to pick up more students at no additional cost to the district.

"We don't want to have to take money away from other programs to pay for the pay-to-ride program, so what we want is the pay-to-ride program to break even," he said.

Murley said under one portion of the No Child Left Behind Act, the school is required to spend 20 percent of federal money to provide students either transportation or additional tutoring.

The district will spend 15 percent of its allocation money on transportation this year. He said it costs the school $40,000 per bus for the school to provide additional routes.

Even though the option costs money, one local parent said because the program would work similar to the lower-priced and free-lunch programs, the program would also benefit lower-income parents as well.

"It does take into consideration family income," Julie VanDyke said.

There have been similar programs implemented in different school districts for several years. Matt Townsley, the director of instruction at Solon School District, said it has used a similar program with its students.

"For the most part, it's pretty well accepted," he said.

Townsley said the Solon program is similar to the Iowa City one in that it provides adjustable payment levels in much of the same way schools offer more affordable student lunch rates for lower-income families.

Townsley said the school charges $100 per student per semester and a maximum charge of $200 per household.

Even with the changeable pay scale provided by the schools, local Iowa City parent Phil Hemingway said there will still be a decision for parents to make on how they will pay for the pay-to-ride program.

"It's a decision that each family will have to make on their own, but I think its great the district is giving an option," he said.

Iowa City School Board member Karla Cook said the school is using the pay-to-ride initiative as a way to provide parents with a safer option.

"I would imagine it's because [parents] viewed some parts of the walk for students as not entirely safe, but it was within part of the two-mile radius," she said.

Cook said she thought part of the reason the program will be re-implemented is the closing of Roosevelt Elementary. But the option will be a district-wide program.

Hemingway said the program is ultimately a good way to provide families with more options.

"I think it's a viable option for parents who don't have the ability to go and pick their kids up," he said.

VanDyke said she believes the pay-to-ride option is great for parents who are within the two-mile limit.

"I am so pleased; if you're under the two miles, there are a lot of people who would like to be able to send their kids on the bus," she said.

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