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Editorial: Nice to see Greenfield thinking outside the box on school transportation

  • The Greenfield School Department, faced with the burden of what Mayor William Martin called an “unsustainable budget,” should consider working with the Franklin Regional Transit Authority to transport students to school. Recorder Staff


Friday, September 29, 2017

In July, Mayor William Martin floated the idea that the Greenfield School Department, faced with the burden of what he called an “unsustainable budget,” should consider working with the Franklin Regional Transit Authority to transport students to school.

His idea met some skepticism, which is a healthy thing, up to a point.

Just because students in rural Wales often ride public buses through the countryside to school and just because students in American cities like Boston and New York take the subways to class doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for Greenfield, right? Who ever heard of such a thing?

Well, actually, lots of Greenfield natives.

In the 1980s, students could get reduced-fare tickets at neighborhood stores and ride Greenfield and Montague Transportation Area buses to high school.

So, maybe this is a time to stop and reflect before closing the door on an old idea in new form. We are glad to see that’s the way the Greenfield School Committee is handling Martin’s idea even though some members resisted initially, citing safety concerns.

It might be that collaborating with today’s FRTA could save the school department money on every-rising busing costs and also boost ridership at the FRTA. Apparently, public buses got students to school on time and in one piece in the past. Maybe it could again.

Now, these are different times, with heightened concerns about the safety of young people out in public among people they don't necessarily know.

The school board’s Health and Safety Subcommittee, headed by Cameron Ward, had been tasked with assessing the idea and recommended against considering it because members were worried about student safety.

“If we’re going to have alternate transportation such as the FRTA — who’s on those buses?” Ward asked at a recent meeting. “Have they been background-checked?”

This is a fair issue to consider, but not one that should automatically disqualify the idea. The School Committee was right to have the superintendent’s office look into how such a plan could be implemented. The board has asked for a report in December.

The mayor has defended his proposal, arguing that many other communities have found ways to use public transit without doing criminal backgrounds checks on riders of subways and buses. And we hope that’s something Superintendent Jordana Harper can explore.

Committee member Tim Farrell urged Harper to consider how the school system would limit liability exposure. That’s also smart to look into, but it’s also something other jurisdictions have resolved to their satisfaction.

It worked in Greenfield once. Maybe it could work again.

Ultimately it may be that no money would be saved or that the concerns about safety or liability can’t be resolved to Greenfield’s satisfaction. But at least the town would have made a genuine good faith effort to answer questions by thinking outside the box.