State supreme court hears school bus fee issue

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INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 24, 2014) – Oral arguments were made Monday in the case against a local school district, that had charged a fee for parents to bus their kids to school.

Franklin Township cut free bus service during the 2011-2012 school year, as they tried to balance the district’s budget, hiring a private group to charge parents for bus service, a move that led two parents to file a lawsuit.

A lower court ruled that busing fees are a violation of the state constitution, sending the case to the state supreme court, in a case that could affect every Indiana family in the future.

“I think there’s the fundamental question of whether bussing is even part of an education system,” argued attorney Samuel Laurin, who represents the school district.

The decision in 2011-2012 left many parents angry, though the district eventually reinstated the free bus service. Still, school officials admit they may not have the money down the road and many districts could be in the same situation, due to property tax caps and laws requiring districts to pay off their debts.

“The bottom line is our property taxes currently will not support transportation in the future,” said Dr. Flora Reichanadter, Franklin Township superintendent. “And so a decision like this is going to be monumental for us and for school corporations across the state.”

Still attorneys representing the parents say it’s a right that needs to stay in place.

“Transportation is and has become and evolved into a fundamental part of a free and public education,” said attorney Ian Thompson, who represents the plaintiffs. “The ramifications are very far reaching.”

“I think one of the biggest things we were looking for is whether or not it’s a constitutional right or not to provide transportation, so we’re going to leave it up to the Supreme Court and follow whatever they suggest that we follow,” said Reichanadter.

Justices took about an hour to hear oral arguments Monday morning, but it’s still not known when they’ll reach a final decision in the case.