Black students get on the bus at South Boston High School in 1975 following court-ordered integration. (AP Photo/J. Walter Green)
Massachusetts' governor Deval Patrick warned last week of state budget cuts and significant increases in transportation fees if lawmakers are unwilling to accept tax hikes. Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor said legislators' current plan may prompt the need for $783 million in cuts to non-transportation programs, including $362 million in new education initiatives.
Like most states, Massachusetts has been struggling to balance its budget, and in the process, officials have been making huge cuts to public programs. In December 2012, Governor Patrick ordered spending cuts across state government to close a projected $540 million budget hole that included chopping $9 million in local aid to cities and towns.
Local officials have been scrambling to find programs to cut and outsource on the cheap. In March of this year, the Boston School Committee threw out the last remnants of a busing system first imposed in 1974 under a federal court desegregation order. The idea is this: instead of busing kids across town to achieve integration, the committee believes students will attend schools closer to home.
Mayor Thomas Menino appointed a special advisory group in 2012 to overhaul the system that many call wasteful and expensive. Transportation alone costs the city $80.4 million a year—about 9.4 percent of the school system's operating budget, almost twice the national average. Furthermore, the old bus system sometimes resulted in weird districting where children who live on the same block ended up going to different schools.
There have also been complaints of inefficient bus routes that result in children arriving nearly an hour late to school in some cases. The four bus yards were managed by First Student Inc., but authorities have acknowledged that the blame for the late arrivals is not confined to the contractor, and changes involving transportation options for special needs students, closing and merging campuses and consolidating more than 1,500 routes have affected route times.
Computer software used by the department has also been blamed for underestimating the time it takes to drive from the bus yard and to pickup stops and schools. Drivers are harshly punished for being late, and can sometimes lose up to a day's pay if they are more than five minutes late to work.