Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By PAUL KOENIG Kennebec Journal
CHELSEA - Students commuting from Chelsea to Cony High School in Augusta will be without rides once again Tuesday when the temporary busing from the town ends.
The Board of Selectmen provided 30 days of busing for about 50 students from Chelsea in hopes that administrators from the Augusta school district and Regional School Unit 12 could reach a solution to fund transportation.
Now, parents like Lisa Goulette, whose freshman son attends Cony, have to find ways to get their kids to and from school.
"I don't know how they sleep at night," Goulette said of the school administrators. "I lose a lot of sleep over it."
She said she'll end up taking vacation time at her state job to transport her son the 11 minutes from their Chelsea home to the high school.
James Anastasio, Augusta's superintendent, said the district decided last year that it wouldn't pay busing costs for students outside the district because the cost isn't factored into the price the state allows the school to charge for tuition, which is lower than all area schools.
The town lost bus service to the Augusta high school after the Augusta Board of Education didn't renew a 10-year contract with the town that expired June 30.
Administrators from Augusta and the Somerville-based RSU 12 held several meetings to discuss a new contract that included transportation for students in the RSU, Anastasio said, but nothing came of the conversations. He said no further meetings are scheduled.
"We're willing to talk, but we're not willing to pay for transportation at this point," Anastasio said.
RSU 12 Superintendent Howard Tuttle said most school board members are against providing transportation to Cony, because the district doesn't provide busing to other schools besides its own.
Students from the eight towns in RSU 12 can choose to go to any high school, but the district only provides transportation for Wiscasset High School. RSU 12 covers Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Whitefield, Windsor, Westport Island and Wiscasset.
About two-thirds of students in RSU 12 attend high schools other than Wiscasset, mostly because those schools are closer to home in the far-flung district.
Besides Cony, many students from Chelsea attend Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, Erskine Academy in South China and Gardiner Area High School, all of which provide transportation for Chelsea students to and from central locations. At Erskine, families in RSU 12 pay $10 per week for busing.
The bus service has told the town it could pay $8,750 to cover the additional expenses of the buses from Cony High School continuing on to Chelsea, according Town Manager Scott Tilton.
But he said the town doesn't have enough left in its $25,000 transportation budget to bus students to and from Augusta.
The town spent $1,000 out of its $3,000 contingency fund to pay for the temporary busing, Tilton said.
Tuttle said the district's busing and tuition committee, which met with Augusta school officials, will present options for a contract with Cony to the school board on Oct. 10.
A bigger issue for the district is that Cony, like other high schools attended by students from the district, can disinvite students for poor behavior or falling behind on course credits, he said.
Goulette said she would be willing to pay extra so her son would have a ride to and from the school, but she's frustrated no one has come up with a solution.
"There's a way to work this," she said. "I don't know why they're getting hung up on this."
Tuttle said the district doesn't want to get in the business of busing students to other schools.
The town of Chelsea could set up some transportation system funded by parents if it wanted, Tuttle said.
"This is sort of an ongoing piece," he said, "and I don't know if there will be a resolution or not."
Paul Koenig can be contacted at 621-5663 or at: