Monday, September 10, 2007

Back to School Pt. II - How do you get there?

The Governor and SEPTA announced a historic deal in August 2007 which would guarantee free transportation to Philadelphia public school students. Actually, only eligible 7th-12th graders will ride SEPTA for free. So how are you getting to school? Does the SEPTA deal help you out? What other concerns do you have about transportation? After all, if we can't get to school, then how can we learn?


Parents United said...

From Gretchen Cowell, parent. Sent to Parents United, Sept. 17, 9:10 a.m.

As you know, to address the deficit (now supposedly eliminated), the
school district had decided to eliminate most free transportation,
unless students lived more than a mile and a half from their
neighborhood schools. SEPTA, with help from state funding arranged by
Governor Rendell, came to the rescue, and offered free school day
passes to students in grades 7 through 12. The school district then
eliminated school tokens, previously slightly subsidized for students
in grades 7 - 12. The public perception is that everyone gets a free
ride to school now, unless they live within a mile and a half.

But that is not true at all. Students in grades 1 - 6 who do not
attend their neighborhood school get nothing. Many students in
Philadelphia do not attend their neighborhood school. Essentially now
for elementary school students in Philadelphia, if you do not live in
a good neighborhood and you want to attend a half-decent school, cough
up $468 for transportation. There is an exception for students going
to schools for desegregation, but there isn't much of that, most
schools who had it have lost their deseg status, and a couple other
exception that don't affect many kids. Also, a number of kids are
grandfathered into transportation system.

Kindergartners get no transportation either.

Gretchen Cowell
Kids at Masterman and Albert Greenfield

Parents United said...

From another parent, anonymous. Posted Sept. 17, 12:13 P.M.

Any word on transpasses for 5th and 6th graders? not all 5th and 6th graders get yellow bus service. how can they give transpasses to some
and not others?

Jerry said...

Attached is my email to Tom Brady:

Mr. Brady,

Yesterday, my daughter, Kaitlin, began her first day at school as a 6th grade student at Masterman Middle School. I am not sure if you are aware that Masterman is probably the only public school in the State of Pennsylvania that does not receive bus service for its middle school students. The other Philadelphia magnet middle schools (Gamp etc.) receive yellow bus service. The district provides bus transportation for students attending private suburban schools within a 10 mile radius of the city line but does nothing for the top students in the district. Only in Philadelphia! This definitely has an adverse impact on the number of children applying to Masterman. On several occasions, I brought this up with school district officials and did not getting a reasonable explanation as to why bus service is not provided. Their response, "The school meets desegregation requirements, blah, blah, blah...". To make matters worse, the district did away with free tokens for Masterman middle school students last year. So when I heard that Septa would be providing free passes, I thought that I could put this matter behind me.

But to my surprise, the free passes will only be given out to students entering 7th through 12th graders with the 5th/6th grades left out in the cold. In addition, the passes do not apply to rail services and do not provide any discount to student rail passengers who have the passes. We live in the Bustleton section of Northeast Philadelphia and a trip to Masterman by bus would mean a 75-90 minute commute each way. In addition, due to the lack of safety on these service lines, I would never feel comfortable putting my 11-year old daughter on multiple buses as well as the subway/El system. My daughter and several other Masterman students travel to school through the Septa rail system which is a significant financial burden The student one-way fair for the Septa Rail system has just increased from $1.50 to $2.50, increasing the monthly cost from $60 to $100, or a 70% jump. Septa does not offer a discounted monthly rail pass for students. In addition, these students are required to pay for tokens to get from the train station to Masterman. I would not be surprised to find out today that the student token discount is eliminated. If this occurs, it will increase the monthly transportation cost to $152 per month/$1,382 per year/$7.60 per day. Does this seem fair to you?

So today I am waiting on the bus stop in Center City with a number of Masterman Middle and High School students. The Masterman students in 7th through 12th grade are holding their "free Septa passes" as they get on the bus. The 5th and 6th grade students are paying with tokens (minimum cost: $1.08 each way).

Is there any way that something can be done to include Masterman 5th and 6th grade students as well as expanded the free pass to the rail system?


Jerry Buck

I found out yesterday that several schools are handing out passes to their 5th/6th grade students. In addition, discounted tokens for students are now eliminated so the minimum cost each way is now $1.30.

Alison said...

Our family was also impacted by the loss of deseg bussing. Our daughter attends an regular elementary school outside our neighborhood. We didn't use bussing last year, because kindergarten students aren't eligible.

We did hope to utilize bussing in the future, but now that isn't an option. In her school there are a number of children who have older siblings that are grandfathered into bus service, but their young siblings are not eligible for these services now.

I persnoally have noticed a decided increase in the number of cars in the area around school during dismissal time. So much for mass transit. I feel badly for parents whose work schedules or lack of a car makes it impossible for them to make due without bus service.

Supposedly 100+ of the 117 schools that had had previous bussing services were eliminated because the transportation services weren't furthering the goals of desegregation. I took that to mean that the students being bussed in were reinforcing the majority group, not making it more diverse.

What amazes me is that no one in the District had bothered to evaluate the effectiveness of the program over the past two decades. They only looked at it when faced with a budget crisis. When the program was reevaluated, nearly 90% of the schools lost service from one year to the next!

In my opinion, it demonstrates incredible lack of oversight that the District was paying for desegregation bussing services for years, services were in most instances proven largely ineffective with respect to desegregation.

That is not to say that bussing services are not incredibly important, but their importance has shifted. Bussing may not serve desegregation adequately in many schools, but it does give parents additional choices about finding an school environment that works for their child.

The District seems very interested in providing parents with many educational choices these days. Some of those choices, include charter schools, which are entitled to bussing services. The District is even paying to bus private school students to their schools.

Why then, in this climate of increasing school choice, are students attending regular-public schools outside their neighborhoods being denied transportation services that others who have opted out of the regular public school system are given so readily?

I would be willing to forego bussing services, if restrictions in services were applied equally across the board: cuts to charters and cuts to private and parochial service. I doubt that is going to happen anytime soon.

Meanwhile, additional cars continue to idle outside our school during pick-up times, and the buses are idling, too...but now they carry fewer students. I'm not sure that's a message we should be sending our kids.

Alison McDowell
Meredith Elementary

Cecelia Thompson said...

My son does ride the bus to school. However, if his bus is late in the morning, you cannot get through to transportation. For example, if I call at 7:20am, my son's scheduled pick up time, I cannot get through until 7:45am. I am either on hold or the line is busy. When you do get through, you are told by the operator, "Why didn't you call at 7:20am" (as if I waited until 7:45am to call, thus causing me to be late for work).

There needs to be more people hired to answer phones in the morning and in the evening, until 6pm. The late hours are for parents to call and get information about late buses due to mechanical failure, traffic accidents, and any unforseen circumstance. They can take the money they are paying the former CFO and the $180,000 bonus to Mr. Vallas and hire extra people to answer family concerns regarding transportation.

Melissa, kids at Masterman and Conwell said...

My 6th grade daughter at Masterman informed me yesterday that her school is not even selling transpasses or school tokens for them to get to school. she nowhas to pay $13 for adult tokens and $.60 for transfers. this is upfrom $10 a week last year to $19 this year.

Maryann said...

I was just informed that my children were not accepted for the free transpasses because they are not in 7th-12th grade. What different does it make what grade they are in they still need to get to school. I live more than 1.5 miles & I take 6 buses to get them to & from school. I can not afford that it I think it is outragous & uncalled for that these are the eligibilities for the program. The city uses our tax dollar on stufff that is not important. I feel that this is a important factor in the kids education.Thanks for nothing in helping another person from Philly get what they need. I knew it was to good to be true.Septa should be ashamed of themselves but, they have no problem hiking up the fares to ride the buses.

Fight the power said...

Why do parents that have children that go to the best public school in the district have to suffer to get there children to school? We pay our taxes and work hard, yet the School District makes us have to pay $20.75 every week to be able for our children to be able to get a better education than children at the neighborhood schools. Private schools get free transportation, why can't we? Some people have multiple properties and the city takes school taxes out of them all! I am outraged that I can't get transportation for my child.

Parents United said...

Michelle and Devren write:

"What do you do when you move to a new neighborhood and you have 2 children 8 & 6 years of age and thier new school and Neighborhood does not have any before and after school programs? I know the funded was cut but some/most neighborhood still offer the programs but at a fee. Me and my family now live in 19149 zip code, Ethan Alan is the neighborhood school and the principle advise me thier are no before and after school they only had two that they knew of in the are but after this school year June 2008 they will be closing.

There is another school on the opposite side of the blvd. name Cornell, which is located exactly 2 minutes from my house. If you make a right at the corner of my block you will travel 10 blocks (6 lights) and be right there, they have before and aftercare right in the school at an affordable fee. I was told I can put them in there b/c it wasn't my neighborhood school and the fact that my area doesn't have before and after school, thats not ground to request to be tranferred. I was told there are serveral parent that tried to tranfer and they were denied. the schools don't feel it's thier responsiblity for the kids before and aftercare. The secretary at Ethan alan elementry said she don't know why parents feel the schools should have such programs at the school.

My only hope now is that I can find a van service that will pick up my child to take them to school and bring them back. Cornell have before and aftercare offered to the public but does not have a van service. I can drop my kids off at Cornell elementry as early as 6:30am, I would need a van service f=to pick them up from Cornell by 8:15 drop them off at Ethan Alan by 8:30 come back to Ethan Alan by 3:09 pick them up and drop them off to Cornell. The director of the program advise me that a lot of thier kids parents drop them off anf the yellow school bus pick them up and take them to and from school but no one so far no of any private service. Come September we don't know what to do if we can't be transferred or get a van service."

alt said...

Does Phidelephia Academy Charter High School take SEPTA or the yellow school bus ?

mom12 said...

My children attend Anne Linglebach School they are in the 6th and 8th grades. They are not eligible for free transpasses because the school district's department of transportation says that we live 1.4 miles from school. When I did mapquest it came up as 1.56 miles. I called all the district, the academic area offices and the principal at the school and no one wants to help me. I have been told that they don't use Mapquest but no one will tell me what they do use to calculate mileage. I have been told to just send the kids to the neighborhood school. "How dare I want better for my kids!" is the prevailing attitude. Linglebach has always made AYP and the neighborhood school has yet to do so. I asked if I could purchase a student pass or school tokens. The passes are not for sale and the school tokens don't exist anymore. I am paying approximately $1660 a year to send my children to public school. Its killing me. Does anyone have a suggestion? All I can think of after two years of fighting this losing battle is home schooling and quitting my job.