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Brandon bus stop in Pontiac?

June 12, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- The school board is considering all options to keep students, including offering bus transportation to those who reside in Pontiac.

"The board is looking at any and all options to retain students," said Superintendent Lorrie McMahon. "We have talked about what is possible for the district to do, but haven't reached a decision...If other districts are going to send buses to take our students, we may have to respond in kind."

For the past several years, state law has dictated that school districts that fail to meet adequate yearly progress must provide transportation for students to districts where AYP is met, if the students want to go. Student eligibility for this service lasts only until they have been in their new district for one year. Pontiac High School is one of the schools that has failed to meet AYP.

Dr. Robert Taylor, director of student services for the Pontiac School District said in the 2012-2013 school year, 46 students that reside within the Pontiac School District boundaries were bused to Brandon High School.

However, the state law recently changed and districts were notified several weeks ago that failing districts would no longer be required to bus students to their schools of choice.

Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Dr. William Skilling confirmed that he and Oxford administrators have been approached by Walton Charter Academy, a K-8 Pontiac school, to provide busing to students who would enter their freshman year at Oxford High School.

"The reason they met with us was because most of the students would prefer to come to Oxford if they had a way to get here," Skilling said. "Right now we have not decided whether to offer the service, because we're still waiting to see if we have 40 students who are approved to come...We would need a minimum of 40 students. We would only do it for freshman."

Oxford currently sends buses to pick up students from Dryden and Metamora, outside of the Oxford District boudaries. Skilling said Oxford has never strategized where to send a bus, but responded to requests from parents who came to them.

"The reason Oxford has succeeded in the last six years and survived through the worst economy in our lifetime is because we took students from other schools," Skilling said. "As a result, other schools suffered from us taking their students. It's the parent's choice, it's the student's choice, we just made our district more attractive."

Brandon had more than 500 schools of choice students this school year. The district has been open to students who live outside the district since 1996, when it had six schools of choice students and the numbers have increased every year since then.

Two years ago, the district held study sessions on the issue as a group of parents and residents voiced their opposition to schools of choice. The study found that schools of choice students on average scored equally as well on MEAP tests as their in-district counterparts and had no more behavioral problems than students who reside within the school district, two of the complaints against schools of choice commonly cited by opponents.

Schools of choice has one very large advantage for the district— it brings per-pupil funding of more than $3 million annually. While there is cost to having more teachers and supplies for the additional student load, schools of choice still generates far more revenue than expenditures, and the revenue benefits all students in the district.

Brad DePalma, a Brandon Township resident, voiced his opposition to any potential plan by the district to transport students who reside in Pontiac but want to attend Brandon.

"We have to raise money to pay for the Taj Mahal of football stadiums," he said, referring to millions of dollars in loans the district is taking out to meet their annual payments for the 2006 voter-approved $73 million bond (see story, page 4). "Downsize the schools and we have to have lay-offs. The answer isn't to go to Pontiac Schools and bus kids here."

"My tax dollars are going to pay to bus kids from Pontiac?" he asked. "I want you to pay to bus my kids to Oxford."

McMahon said it would cost about $34,000 per year for the district to run one 50-passenger bus to Pontiac, roundtrip, including the cost of gas, the bus maintenance, and the driver.

"The cost is doable," she continued. "Enrollment is our revenue. We have to consider all the options and decide what to pursue. (A decision) should be made before too long, but the reality is we take registration up until school starts, so there is still time."

Trevor Keiser of the Oxford Leader contributed to this report.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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