KELLER (CBSDFW.COM) – Third-party transportation services are reporting an increase in demand just one day after Keller ISD became the first school district in the state to charge parents a flat rate for their children to ride the bus to school.
“We are filling up very fast,” said Rushelle Wetzel with Smiley Transportation in Fort Worth. “We were at the dealership looking at adding to our fleet.”
A Keller ISD spokesman said the district spends between $260 and $360 per student on school bus transportation each year.
District officials said when residents rejected a 13-cent increase in the property tax rate, they were forced to push the transportation costs onto the parents.
As such, the school board approved a plan Monday that will charge one student $185 per semester – $370 a year – to ride the bus. A second student in the same family costs $135 per semester, or $270 a year, to use the school’s transportation. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunches have to pay $100 a semester.
Smiley Transportation offers door-to-door service to and from schools in Keller and Northwest ISDs.
“The vans hold 11 students,” Wetzel said. “And we pick up kids who are sick and need to be taken home.”
Their rates are higher – parents pay $35 to $65 a week – but the company acts more like a personal driver. Wetzel said there’s no walking to a bus stop and waiting, and the driver will take a child to-and-from any tutoring or extracurricular activities.
For some parents, if they’re going to have to pay, they’d rather pay more for a premium service.
“I just felt like all I did was come home and wait 30 minutes to get back in the car and drive again,” said Cindy Rowden, a parent of two. “It was averaging 150 miles a day.
Rowden turned to another third party service, Lewisville-based Students Only Shuttle, to handle transportation duties.
Students Only Shuttle charges $9 each ride, depending on the distance, and also provides door-to-door service.
“Basically, we wheel in when the parents aren’t able to provide the rides,” said employee Amy Summars. “I’m a grandmother and I do a lot of the driving myself.”
Both shuttle services said they perform background checks on all drivers. They also notify parents by text message when the students are school or at home.
“You expect a bus ride just like you expect lunch to be provided to your child,” said mother Wendy Edington, whose daughter is in the 7th grade at Keller ISD. “That’s what your money pays for.”
After initially saying there would be no monthly payment plan, Keller ISD officials said Tuesday that parents could, after all, pay on a month-to-month basis.
For one child to ride the bus for a month, parents would pay $48 and $36 for another child in the same family. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunches can pay $27 a month to ride. For roughly four months, the rate is just $7 more than the flat rate.