SOMERSET — After hearing that the school district was considering paying staff members to stay after school with students at North Elementary School so that they could take a bus to go to Little Red School House for daycare, some members of the Somerset School Committee said the Somerset Public Schools has to look at ending the arrangement that it has to drop students from North Elementary School and South School off at Little Red School House.
Parents had been complaining about students getting home late on buses from North Elementary School and School Superintendent Jeffrey Schoonover said it had to do with a double run of a school bus that was taking students to Little Red School House and then going back to North Elementary School to take students home. He said the bus taking students home was arriving about 15 minutes late.
Schoonover said the school district was looking at options where the students going to Little Red School House could be taken home on the second part of the double run. With one of the options, he said paraprofessionals were offered overtime pay and teachers were offered stipends if they would stay after school to supervise the students who go to Little Red School House while they waited for the bus.
Schoonover said the solution to getting the students to Little Red School House ended up being dividing them up and putting them on three different buses, based on their grade levels, that leaves the school at the same time after classes end. Operationally, Schoonover said it was not an ideal situation, but said that would allow for all of the students to leave the school at the same time.
School Committee member Melissa Terra said she was taken aback by the school department offering to pay staff to stay after school to watch the students until they got on a bus to Little Red School House on taxpayer dollars when the school system offers an option for daycare for parents through the alphabet. She said the school department would not go to such lengths to accommodate babysitters.
Schoonover said the school department can not force parents to send their children to AlphaBest which offers a daycare program in the school buildings after school.
Terra said there would be a line being crossed if the school department was using the money of taxpayers to pay its employees to supervise students who were waiting for a bus to go to Little Red School House. She said there should be a policy in place that the school department should not be funding babysitting for anyone.
Schoonover said that in the future if the school department could not accommodate taking students to Little Red School House on a first bus run, it would have to be done on a second run. Terra said if that was the case, parents would have to be charged for the bus service.
“We can’t ask the taxpayers to pay for this,” Terra said.
Schoonover said the School Committee had discussed school buses dropping students off at Little Red School House in the past.
School Committee member Michael McDonald said parents who pay taxes are being accommodated with the bus service to Little Red School House.
School Committee member Victor Machado said he had been told in the past, that transporting students to Little Red School House was not a burden on the school department, but now he thinks it is. He said he would have hit the roof if the school department decided to use taxpayer dollars to pay staff to supervise students until a bus could bring them to Little Red School House. He said he would want Little Red School House to provide a staff member to do that.
Machado said he believes in having one pick-up location and one drop-off location for students using the school buses. He said he is more than happy to have the school department provide bus service for students to their homes, but not to a private business. He said it is not the school department’s responsibility to get students to a private business. He said it is the school department’s responsibility to get students home safely.
Machado said that Schoonover, North Elementary School Principal Paula Manchester and himself have spent a lot of time on the issue of providing bus service to Little Red School House, which makes it a burden.
Machado said the Little Red School House is an out-of-district dropoff for the North Elementary School and South School, so he would want bus service from those schools to Little Red School House to be stopped. The Chace Street School is in the district of Little Red School House so that service would be allowed to continue.
Machado said the bus service to Little Red School House will not be changed this school year, but it should be addressed for the next school year.
Machado said he understands the parents of the 36 children from North Elementary School who are going to Little Red School House pay taxes, but said they are getting special treatment that other parents who pay taxes are not getting. He said the school department needs to put an end to that.
Schoonover said the school department has had a relationship with Little Red School House for several decades.
North Elementary School Principal Paula Manchester said no extra funds were used to pay staff related to students going to Little Red School House for daycare. Terra said the school department considered using funds for that purpose without the School Committee knowing.
“We have a daycare provider,” Terra said. “We shouldn’t be paying staff to babysit.”
Schoonover said he asked permission to pay the staff members for extra time after school to School Committee Chairman Andrew Crook. Crook was not in attendance at last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.
Machado said he was glad the school department found a resolution for getting the students to Little Red School House so that other students would not be going home so late.
Parent Jessica Machado said to know that the school department was considering using taxpayer dollars to watch the students going to Little Red School House was bothersome to her and would have been a flagrant misuse of dollars. She said those students would have been given a service not afforded to other parents. Ms. Machado said the School Committee had voted that students could only have one pick-up location and one drop-off location. She said the school district should review its policy about busing students to private businesses. She said Little Red School House should provide its own transportation for the students, not the school department. She said sending students to the alphabet program could be the most cost-effective for them because they could also pick them up at the schools. Teacher Kristen Camara said the alphabet programs at South School and North Elementary School are filled up.
Ms. Machado said she sympathizes with the parents who need the daycare services, but said it is not fair to other taxpayers to have to fund it.