Franklin Township dropping 'pay to ride'

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No more paying to ride in Franklin Township next year. Students there will be getting back on the bus thanks to two bills awaiting the governor's signature. Those bills also give the cash-strapped district a way to pay for the bus service but it still faces legal challenges.

Franklin Township came under fire at the start of the school year after turning over its bus service to a non-profit, which charges $47.50 per child per month to ride the bus. The district made the changes to cut costs after two referendums to raise money thru property taxes failed.

While 1,900 students continued taking the bus, many others stopped, relying on their parents or car pools to get them to and from school. It wasn't just the fees parents that upset parents but the added traffic and safety concerns.

A bill authored by Rep. Mike Speedy (R-Indianapolis) prohibits districts from charging for bus service, even if they turn it over to another entity.

Marie Rider, a parent used to making two trips a day to Adams Elementary said, "I'm happy about that. It's a public school. Kids have a right to ride he bus if it's necessary."

Debbie Garrett, at Adams to pick up her grandchildren, said, "They shouldn't charge for bus service in Franklin Township. We already pay enough in property taxes."

Seven months after the new system was implemented some don't mind having to pick up their kids. They file in the parking lot, wait for the kids to come out and file out again with the help of a traffic officer.

Robin Baker said she has "the system down. It flows pretty well. It's not bad."

But most parents told us they'll be glad to see their kids back on the bus. The same goes for Superintendent Walter Bourke.

"It's been a tough issue and a year," he said.

Bourke said he was glad the legislation also gives districts a way to pay for the bus service. It lets them refinance their debt without a referendum.

"It's like if you have a house and go from a 15- to a 30-year mortgage. You pay less money per month so you have more available to pay for transportation," Bourke said.

The battle over bus service isn't over for Lora Hoagland. She sued the district over the fees and is moving forward with her lawsuit.

While Hoagland said she's happy "we get the buses back and can get the kids to school safely," she said the district "still needs to be held accountable."

She said she's pursuing the lawsuit because people who've lost their jobs and suffered hardships "deserve to be reimbursed."

Bourke said the district has no plans for refunds. He said what they did was legal and appropriate.

A judge will ultimately decide who's right. As for the bus service, it's not quite a done deal. The governor still needs to sign the legislation and the school board still needs to sign off on the refinancing plan.

While Bourke supports it, he noted it does mean more debt and interest over a longer period of time. The board is set to discuss the plan at its March 26th meeting.