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Sunday, April 11, 2021

IPS proposal: Move 600 students to IndyGo for transportation, enforce walk zones

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Indianapolis Public Schools officials proposed cutting traditional yellow bus service for about 600 students and transitioning them to IndyGo as the district looks for spending cuts to close an $18 million budget gap.

The district presented its proposal to the school board March 25, and the board will vote on it April 29. The transition would start next school year.

The district chose the students based on three criteria:

· Total travel time from home to school would be less than 50 minutes, which is a half hour shorter than district guidelines for yellow buses.

· Students would have to walk less than 0.7 miles total, including from home to the bus and from the bus to school.

· Students would need to be able to get to school without transferring buses.

Zach Mulholland, the district’s executive director of operations, said the average travel time for the 600 students would be about 24 minutes, and almost 90% of students would have a shorter travel time with IndyGo than they would on a yellow bus.

Any IPS high school student can opt in to making IndyGo their transportation provider, meaning they would give up yellow bus service.

“We realize this is a significant shift for the district and for the students, and there’s going to be an adjustment and accommodation for that,” Mulholland said.

IPS has had a relationship with IndyGo since launching a pilot for high school students in 2018. All high school students currently have universal bus access — including nights, weekends and holidays — as part of a pilot program. Starting next school year, the 600 students and others who opt in will be the only ones who get a bus pass.

Brayana Peacock, a 10th grader at Crispus Attucks High School, said she uses IndyGo to get home after volleyball and track practice because her mother isn’t always able to get her.

She recommended implementing something like a buddy system for safety, and Mulholland said that’s something the district will consider.

“All in all, the public transportation, it is very effective and efficient,” Peacock told the school board.

IPS also will enforce walk zones starting next school year to save money on transportation, a move that will affect about between 5,500 and 7,000 students. The district has provided transportation in most school walking zones because there haven’t been enough crossing guards, but IPS will have more to accommodate walkers.

District policy defines walking zones as the following:

· Elementary school students who live within 1 mile of school.

· Middle school students who live within 1.25 miles of school.

· High school students who live within 1.5 miles of school.

The board will not need to approve enforcing walk zones since it’s already part of district policy. The district will make exceptions to its transportation adjustments for students with special needs.

The district’s $18 million budget shortfall is because of a decrease in per-student funding from the state and a decline in enrollment.

Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the goal is to save up $3 million to $4 million on transportation annually with the changes, which also include bus route consolidation.

External studies show IPS spends about twice as much on transportation per pupil than similar urban districts. Johnson said that’s partly because the district has an expansive school choice program, which means students get bused all over, and the district has been lenient with its transportation accommodations over the years.

Johnson said the district could be more ambitious with changes and save $17 million.

“We also know to pull on every single lever is not tenable at this time,” she said.

Johnson called the current proposal a “strong first step.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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