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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 considers offering transportation to schools of choice

David Stark, Falcon School District 49 board president, said he wants all Falcon students to have access to the district’s school choice program and is concerned that lack of transportation stands in the way of many students.”School of choice is important because different learning types do well in different environments,” Stark said.D 49 offers a myriad of special programs, which enhance or offer alternatives to traditional curriculums. Programs include STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), International Baccalaureate, Core Knowledge, Career Academy and a variety of charter schools.Colorado state law does not require school districts to provide transportation to students who choose a school outside their attendance area. Denise Mund, school choice senior consultant for the Colorado Department of Education, said the issue is occasionally brought before the Colorado State Board of Education, but little has come of the discussion.”The cost of transporting students outside their normal attendance area is too great,” Mund said.Elaine Olsen, co-president of the Falcon Teachers Education Association, said she is concerned that school choice programs are only accessible to students with economic advantages. “I want to know the average socioeconomic status of charter and school choice students,” Olsen said.The D 49 school of choice application states that parents must furnish transportation for students granted permission to attend school outside their area.”That’s hard for single parents,” Olsen said.”We are not providing any equity,” Stark said. “We are creating a system of the haves and the have nots.”At the May 28 board meeting, Stark presented options regarding the transportation issue.Stark proposed expanding transportation service without using general funds and that the board consider implementing a fee-for-service option for students requesting bus service outside their attendance area. He also suggested a mill levy to fund increased transportation costs so that all students could attend their school of choice.The board’s response was disappointing to Stark.”Regrettably, the discussion took a different direction,” Stark said.Board members Dave Martin and Anna Bartha objected to the suggestion of a mill levy and questioned why the item was on the agenda. In the end, the discussion item was tabled, and the board agreed to allow the current transportation policy to stand. If the district’s learning services and transportation department perceive a need for a change, they could present the board with cost and data projections.Stark said he would like to revisit the issue as a board. “We have to understand the problem, come up with solutions and then come up with how to pay for it,” he said.”School choice without transportation is no choice at all,” said Mark Shook, chairman of the D 49 Long Range Planning Committee.Shook said he would support maintaining current bus services to neighborhood schools and adding a fee-for-service program for students who need transportation to a school of choice.”The district has gone to great lengths to provide special programs,” he said. “It would be a shame to let a little thing like transportation stand in the way of students participating in them.”Editor’s note: The information in this article was compiled from attendance at the May 28 board meeting and individual interviews with David Stark, Denise Mund, Elaine Olsen and Mark Shook.

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