School news: More students, electric buses, homeless issues

Staff Writer

The Champlain Valley School District has gained 62 students since the school board made the budget for this school year, and that has led to some budget shortfall.

The growth is primarily at Hinesburg Community School, Charlotte Central School and Champlain Valley Union High School, said Jeanne Jensen, the district’s chief operations officer; each has at least 20 more students than expected.

Talking by phone after the Sept. 15 school board meeting, she said 62 is not that much of an increase in a school system with 4,000 students.

Electric buses

Jensen announced the school system had made the first cut for a grant to get two electric buses.

Champlain Valley Schools was invited to apply for the program. If the system gets the buses, they would be based at Allen Brook Elementary School in Williston, because the infrastructure there would make it convenient to set up charging stations.

Williston is also is an attractive location for getting the grant because it has a wide variety of bus routes to test the viability of the buses, from busy urban streets to rough rural roads.

If Champlain Valley Schools is selected to receive the two electric buses, the school system would pay the same cost as regular buses, about $100,000. The grant would cover the rest of the cost; each electric bus goes for about $300,000, Jensen said.

Busing homeless students

Jensen told the school board Sept. 17 that one reason for budget overruns is the cost of busing homeless students.

Federal law requires schools to provide transportation for students in the system who become homeless.

The federal law is in line with the opinion of local school officials, who believe the best thing is for kids to have a stable school situation. Jensen said an example is a student’s family who became homeless in October; the student is now living on her grandmother’s couch in Milton. The two school systems have to pay the bill for getting the homeless students to their school. In this case, Champlain and Milton would split the cost of getting the student to her original school.

Likewise, sometimes homeless students land in the Champlain system and many times the school system uses a cab company to pick up the students and take them home. They use companies such as Green Cab, whose drivers have been approved for transporting students.

“Those drivers go through the same background checks as my bus drivers,” Jensen said. There may not be a lot of homeless students in the system, but it still can be very expensive. Champlain Valley Schools has transported students from as far away as Alburgh.

Last year, the school system was transporting students from St. Albans and the cost was $175 each way. The budget for homeless transportation last year was only $11,700, and it was overspent by about $40,000, Jensen said.

The numbers of homeless students fluctuate very rapidly.

“At the moment, we have about six homeless kids. That feels low. Last year we had 46 kids — not every day, but at some point,” said Meagan Roy, Champlain Valley School District’s director of student support services.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 is a federal law that ensures that students can continue to go to school even when they are homeless. One intent of the law is to provide school stability for students who are homeless.

Roy said a lot of research shows that, when a student’s home life isn’t stable, it is really important to try to keep their school life stable.

“We allow them to stay in their same school and in fact we encourage them to stay at schools in our district,” she said.

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