By Nick Grabbe
AMHERST - The School Committee may save money on its new bus contract by reducing the number of stops and requiring students to walk up to a quarter mile to reach them.
On Oct. 27, the Amherst School Committee decided to include this new policy in a request for proposals for a new bus contract starting next year. It did not approve an end to busing students living within 1.5 miles of a school, as the state allows, or eliminating after-school late buses.
The new contract will also save money by eliminating the practice of busing Cambodian students to Fort River school and Latino students to Crocker Farm School.
The committee decided against the 1.5-mile no-busing option because of concerns over children's safety and the New England climate, said member Catherine Sanderson.
The Regional School Committee is expected to decide on new busing rules Tuesday.
At a previous meeting, Sanderson endorsed the quarter-mile rule, with savings estimated at $18,000 to $24,000 a year. Chairman Farshid Hajir, of Leverett, recommended eliminating transportation to a program at Greenfield Community College, which would save about $9,000, because it serves so few students. Both opposed cutting after-school buses.
The Regional School Committee will face a more urgent bus financing issue Tuesday. Gov. Deval Patrick reduced transportation reimbursements for regional schools for the current year two weeks ago, and Amherst's cut is $167,000, Hajir said.
Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez is expected to issue recommendations for closing the gap Tuesday.
The cut is unfair because it affects rural schools more than urban ones, Hajir said. State Rep. Steven Kulik, D-Worthington, signed an Oct. 30 letter to Patrick saying the cuts will affect personnel and services and asking him to reconsider.
"Combining transportation routes, especially in regional districts in the western part of the commonwealth, would place an extreme burden on students who would then be required to ride a school bus route for inordinate amounts of time," the letter said.