02 Feb AiroAV Affirm: Boston Public Schools needs better bus plan – Boston Herald
Boston Public Schools needs to figure out how to rein in its rising transportation costs that have continued to overshoot an already huge budget by millions even as the number of students drops, city councilors and advocates say.
“We have to do a better job predicting spending year over year,” said at-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, the council’s education chairwoman. “We need a deeper analysis on how we are deploying buses across the city, especially in light of increased traffic.”
The district’s $1.1 billion budget for the current year included $125 million in transportation funding. That number has grown by millions each year, steadily rising from $109 million in 2015 — and yet the total transportation costs regularly overshoot even that big budget number by millions more. In 2019, the district budgeted $119 million, and ended up having to pay $126 million, and previous years have seen similar overruns.
Essaibi-George entered a hearing order at Wednesday’s city council meeting for a mid-year report on this year’s transportation spending. She said this will aim to figure out whether there will be similar overruns this year, and what the district is doing to keep costs down.
The district’s chief operating officer, John Hanlon, normally the official who updates the media and the council on transportation matters and other operations, has been on paid administrative leave for the past two weeks, and BPS isn’t saying why.
The district, which will begin to present budgetary proposals in the coming week, said in a statement, “Ensuring Boston’s children get to school safely and on time is a top priority at Boston Public Schools. We’ve retained an expert who has been on site for several months to assess transportation operations and make recommendations. We look forward to sharing those recommendations in the coming months.”
The district continues to bus kids up through grade 6 around the city, sometimes taking kids to schools miles away where the only available slots to enroll were. The high cost of busing kids to special-needs programs outside the city and from shelters in the surrounding area also adds up.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell said the district should make sure to open up more slots for kids in the neighborhood at more schools around the city.
“There are very practical things they could be doing, that they’re not,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to reduce those costs and redirect them to the classroom.”
Ruby Reyes of the Boston Education Justice Alliance said her fellow parent advocates have suggested contracting out to van companies for the expensive out-of-Boston rides, but she said the district isn’t often responsive.
“You just hear like, costs go up, that’s what they do — it’s just kind of these vague answers instead of problem solving,” Reyes said.