Members of the Topeka Unified School District 501 board of education were asked on Thursday to consider authorizing the purchase of 4,000 Topeka Metro bus passes for the district’s high school students.
Susan Duffy, general manager of Topeka Metro, said she wants to help more students get to and from school every day “so there won’t be an excuse not to go to school.” She said studies that have been done in the capital city have shown that transportation barriers are “an inhibitor in people being successful.”
“We’re focusing on getting kids to school,” Duffy said. “Even if they don’t ride all the time, they have a back-up plan.”
Duffy proposed to board members that USD 501 purchase 4,000 bus passes at a cost of $260,000. That would be an increase over the 800 passes the district currently has purchased for high school students for $245,000.
Larry Robbins, deputy superintendent, said Duffy’s proposal would be a “bargain” for the district and said there wouldn’t be competition with Durham Bus Services, the national company that privately contracts with USD 501 for bus service, because Durham doesn’t transport high school students.
While board members said they saw value in having more high school students ride the Topeka Metro buses at no charge to get to school, several said they weren’t sure if 4,000 passes were needed since there are only 3,800 to 3,900 high school students in the district. Duffy said the passes wouldn’t be limited to just getting to school. She said they would be good for getting to work and other places.
Board members also said they wanted to find out more about how the new state school finance formula will reimburse districts for transportation costs.
Duffy said another reason she put forth the proposal was because parents of USD 501 high school students bought an estimated 6,000 rides for their children in the month of May, above the 6,000 estimated number of rides that students took with district-issued passes. She said she is also seeing in Topeka that more students are driving less, a national trend. She said that in large part is because of students wanting to be on their phones.
If Topeka Metro gets wireless internet access for its buses, possibly in the next year, Duffy said she expects ridership will jump.
“Once we get Wi-Fi, the kids will want to ride,” she said. “Then we know we’ll be really cool.”
Board members said they would like more data on how many additional high school students would ride a Topeka Metro bus to school and how many students live within 2.5 miles of their school.
Also on Thursday, board members heard more about Scott Dual Language Magnet staff’s recruiting efforts in Puerto Rico.
Sarah Lucero, principal at Scott, said she and other staff members recently went to Puerto Rico and were able to get the necessary number of bilingual teachers to fill the school’s recent vacancies.
“We’re excited about filling vacancies that others have a hard time filling,” said superintendent Tiffany Anderson.
Lucero also said Scott has been invited by the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C., to become the first school in Kansas to become an international Spanish academy. If the designation comes to fruition, Scott’s teachers will receive scholarships for taking education summer courses in Spain, there would be an establishment of a Spanish language assistant program that would help with language and culture, and the school would have access to Spanish online resources from the Spanish resource centers.
Lucero said Scott will be notified of the designation after all of the necessary paperwork is completed.
Board members will have their end-of-year meeting at noon Monday, June 26.
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.