INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Public Schools weigh whether to cut some school bus transportation routes across the district for 2021-2022. But IPS administrators stress they likely will not make any decisions for months.
IPS reports they still need to analyze more research and models and collect community input, before they would bring any proposals for bus route changes to the board of commissioners.
“Obviously, there are budget and financial considerations that are included in this,” Zach Mulholland, IPS Executive Director of Operations, said. “Those will not take priority over students’ safety and making sure that transportation is not a barrier or a burden for accessing our schools.”
IPS is looking for opportunities to eliminate or reduce the money they spend on transportation services. Currently, they are considering changes for high school students who could ride IndyGo buses or those students who live within the walk zone boundaries of their schools.
“Where can we identify savings or cut expenditures that will have the least impact on students,” Mulholland said.
All IPS high school students receive a free IndyGo voucher which they can use every day whenever IndyGo buses are running. IPS said some school bus routes cover the same areas as IndyGo buses.
The district plans to evaluate IndyGo routes, ride times, and transfers before ultimately deciding which school bus routes to cut.
“We view [IndyGo vouchers] as a service enhancement for many of our students,” Mulholland said. “We know we often have students who have after-school jobs or have weekend obligations or summer engagements.”
IPS is also evaluating school bus transportation for students who live within walk zone boundaries. Under IPS’ longstanding policy, the district is not required to provide transportation to high school students who live within 1.5 miles of their schools, middle school students living within 1.25 miles, and elementary students living within a mile.
Though, they do provide transportation to the 4,000 students who live within these boundaries.
“We know that number includes lots of students that will continue to get bus services either because they’re McKinney-Vento, our homeless that are highly mobile students, or because of special education services where transportation is an important part of that,” Mulholland explained.
IPS reported they face a budget shortfall next year. Analysis shows the district spends as much as $17 million more on transportation than districts in urban areas that have similar demographics and student populations.
IPS said the district spends about 1.5 times as much money per student for transportation as peer districts. IPS points to the geography of the district and providing students a choice of where they want to attend classes while still providing free transportation.
“As a district, we’ve made a commitment to making sure that students have a choice and are able to select a program that suits their needs and their interests,” Mulholland explained.
IPS did not provide a specific timeline for when they would announce changes to school bus transportation for the 2021-2022 school year.