The PWCS Office of Transportation Services recently announced it will strictly enforce transportation policies in the 2012-2013 school year—meaning transportation to and from before and after school programs at Chinn Aquatics and Fitness Center in Woodbridge will no longer be available for certain schools.
PWCS has provided buses to shuttle students between Chinn and 10 different Woodbridge-area schools. The transportation office recently discovered that most of those schools are outside the geographic boundaries for transportation to Chinn, violating county-wide policy. The decision to whittle those schools down to three –Woodbridge Middle, Springwoods Elementary, and Westridge Elementary – leaves many working parents scrambling to find a different solution for their kids: one that offers quality activities at a reasonable price. In addition, the deadline to apply to transfer a child to a new school for the 2012-2013 year is Feb. 15.
“I’m very upset,” local working mom Charlene McCombs said. “I’m especially upset that the school transportation department did not give the parents the option to give their opinions on cutting the program. I don’t think the transportation department realizes the consequences that this will have for over 100 students.”
PWCS Director of Communications Philip Kavits said the change is an issue of fairness. "I think parents around the county could ask, why doesn't my child get this level of service," Kavits said. "It's a matter of what we have the resources to provide."
Kavits said that the school system's policy is to provide transportation to and from programs within a defined geographical boundary. "Outside that area, transportation is only provided for special needs students or students in specialty programs."
McCombs was first notified of the change by an email from the Chinn Center. She then contacted Edward Bishop, Director of Transportation Services for PWCS, to ask about the change.
He responded by email.
“In years past, the Office of Transportation Services transported students to and from the Chinn Center to schools outside the boundary area in which the center is located,” an excerpt from the email reads. “This service was requested by one of our schools and billed as a field trip. The Chinn Center subsequently reimbursed the school for the field trip charges. The transportation was requested and paid for in this manner in order to circumvent the existing PWCS policy of providing out-of-boundary transportation for only special needs and specialty school students. Regular transportation services are only provided to in-boundary schools.”
The Office of Transportation found out about this arrangement a couple of years ago when other parents wanted additional county schools to receive the same transportation, Bishop wrote.
“The resources to provide this service on an equitable county-wide basis are not available and not affordable in light of existing budget constraints,” he said.
Currently the Chinn program serves Antietam, Belmont, Lake Ridge, Old Bridge, Porter Traditional, Springwoods and Westridge elementary schools. The Chinn program also serves Beville, Lake Ridge and Woodbridge middle schools.
McCombs’ older child, a first-grader at Antietam, has participated in the before and after school programs at Chinn for almost two years. The McCombs drop him off at 6:30 a.m. before they depart on their hour long commutes to work in Reston and Arlington, respectively. She picks him up in the evening by 7 p.m.
The before and after school programs cover teacher workdays, early dismissal days, and offers an after-school snack, homework time, gym time and weekly swimming. Her son can also participate in many sports and activities such as basketball, football, soccer, dodgeball, and crafts. In addition, he can make use of the playground. Counselors are there to provide companionship or guidance during these activities.
Currently, her son receives a bus ride to and from Chinn Park to Antietam Elementary every school day. With that transportation option disappearing in the upcoming year, McCombs now has to find a different program for her son.
For McCombs, this means enrolling her son in one of two daycare centers that coordinate a transportation program with the school.
“The cost of those daycares is an average of $140 a week,” she said. “I’m looking at paying an extra $2,000 a year just to have him bused to school in the morning. I don’t know where I’m supposed to come up with an extra couple of grand just for some place where he’ll be for a couple of hours a day.”
Currently, McCombs already pays for daycare for her second child, age 3. The Chinn Center only charges her $315 a month for both the before and after school programs, with the option to pay a little extra to receive all-day care during Christmas break, spring break, and summer break. The before school program runs from 6 a.m. until the school bus picks kids up for $130 a month; the after school program runs from when buses drop kids off at the center until 7 p.m. for $260 a month. Before and after school program combined costs $315 a month.
McCombs has considered transferring her son to Westridge or Springwoods, “but it doesn’t seem fair to pull him out of school,” she said. “The deadline [to apply to transfer] is tomorrow and we just found out about this last week.”
The Park Authority facilities in Prince William County offer before and after school programs at other facilities in the county. The one at Chinn Aquatics and Fitness Center serves grades K-8 and has a long waiting list, according to Prince William Park Authority spokesperson Dianne Cabot. The Sharron Baucom Dale City Recreation Center offers a similar program, Cabot said.
“What happens with our before and after school programs, this has been going on for quite some time, if we could afford to with everything involved in it, we could go get a bus,” said Cabot. “That’s not where we focus things.”
Cabot said when the kids sign up at Chinn, or any other facilities, the parents can reach out to the schools and let them know that they’ve signed up for one of these programs. If there is a registration of six or more students for a particular program then the school will consider either adding a bus to take those students from a particular location either from the Chinn center to the school or from the school to the Chinn center.
“We work with transportation at schools and they charge us a nominal fee. Our staff wanted to make parents aware of the process,” said Cabot.
“I feel very bad for these parents and I’m sure they’re frustrated, but there’s not much we can do about it,” said Cabot.
Kavits, the PWCS communications director, said that Chinn had been notified of the change over a year ago in order to give plenty of time for parents to be notified. Kavits said the understanding was that Chinn would notify parents, since they have contact with the parents of students in the program. "I don't know the rationale why once that information was available to them it wasn't passed on," he said.
McCombs said a similar decision to cut the transportation program happened last year.
“But by August, they realized there were too many kids involved,” she said. “I understand if they don’t want to bring in more buses for other schools, but at least keep the ten schools for the program.”
She recently spoke with another mom who has a child in middle school.
“The kid is too old for daycare,” McCombs said. “In making decisions so quickly, they have not determined the ramifications.”
McCombs suggested that any other parents troubled by these changes email the transportation director, Edward Bishop, at BISHOPED@pwcs.edu.