WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — Several Westborough parents expressed safety concerns if a proposed bus fee forces students to take to school on foot. The reason: There are no sidewalks leading to Mill Pond school.
"I think the school district is asking for a lawsuit if one of these kids is hit by a car," said Jennifer Rudolph of Old Nourse Street at Tuesday's School Committee meeting, noting that her house is less than a mile from Mill Pond.
"It's a much bigger issue than just implementing a transportation fee."
The proposed fee, $200 per student with a $500 family cap, was suggested by board members as a means to offset necessary budget increases.
The current transportation budget is $2.2 million, half of which is mandated by the state. The fee would offset the budget by approximately $240,000.
"When we've looked at the cuts we would need to make, it makes much more sense to raise fees, but only if the community buys into paying the bus fee," School Committee Chair Ilyse Levine-Kanji said. "We do not want anybody walking on Route 30. We do not want anybody walking on Ruggles Street to get to Fales."
Former Board of Selectmen Chair and School Committee member George Thompson also spoke to the committee, tasking it with appealing to state legislators and "holding their feet to the fire" in terms of mandates and state funding shortages.
"This has been a significant issue and we have been failed collectively by all state representatives, all state senators on this issue, whether Republican or Democrat," Thompson said. "If elected officials don't hold their feet to the fire, you're part of the failure."
The bus fee will be voted on at the Dec. 18 School Committee meeting as part of the overall school budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The School Committee went into further discussion about how the budget could be reduced, but any reduction would involve hard cuts.
"It's ultimately for [the town] to decide what kind of education you want," School Committee vice chair Stephen Doret said.
Superintendent Marianne O'Connor submitted a list of cuts that would be necessary to get down to the requested 2.5 percent budget increase without a bus fee.
The cuts, which would total $400,000 from the current projected budget of $42.9 million, would affect late buses, athletics, fine arts programs and multiple staff positions.
"The story is, basically, there's no one place you can get $400,000 from," Asst. Superintendent Dan Mayer said.