Deal likely to save Manatee County charter school bus service

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Manatee County charter schools are one step closer to reaching a deal that insures their students can get bus transportation. A proposal on the table two weeks ago would have ended busing for charter school students, but board members were considering other options at a meeting held early Tuesday evening.

"Soon as I heard about this school I was fairly sure this was the school for me," says 6th grader Madison Corbett, who attends Manatee School for the Arts. It’s one of the five charter schools facing changes to its transportation contract with the Manatee County School District. The original recommendation by Superintendent Rick Mills would have terminated charter school bus transportation -- a cost saving of about $55,000 for the financially strapped school district -- but many say that change would have prevented students from attending the school of their choice.

"This is all about politics, but at the root of everything here there are kids that we're talking about," Corbett says.

The issue prompted students to sign petitions and parents to voice their concerns, and after several weeks of negotiations the sides have reached a deal.

"Cooler head prevailed,” says Dr. Bill Jones, principal of Manatee School for the Arts. “They have come up with a proposal that at this time is acceptable to us."

The terms up for consideration is a $3.28 cent cost per mile or $729.56 charge per student. Jones says each of the five charter schools agreed to the option that worked best for them.

"Four of the five opted for the mileage one of the schools because of the way their structured went for the per-pupil, and it was all based on which made more economic sense," Jones says.

The new rates are higher than what charter schools were already paying the district to transport the students, but for some the cost increase is a lot better than the previous recommendation to completely terminate service.

"I’m very proud of those efforts and I don’t regret anything," Corbett says.