Manatee school district recommends cutting bus rides for charter students

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- A free public education is every child's right, and charter schools are meant to provide parents and students with more choices toward that effort. But now it appears that a free bus ride is not part of that right for those attending charter schools. The Manatee County School District cites a $9 million deficit, and says they are exploring several options to meet those financial obligations.

The proposal recommended by the district to the board would stop the buses that now pick up and drop off students who attend area charter schools -- and some say that's just not right.

"It would make me so heartbroken because I love this school,” says sixth grader Alyssa Duffy, one of roughly 3000 students in the district who ride a free bus to and from her charter school each day. “I've wanted to go here for a really long time."

Nestled in next Tuesday’s school board agenda is something called Item 49. It's a recommendation to end future transportation services to charter schools. (The item was briefly removed from the agenda late Friday afternoon, but was expected to be revised and added back in before Tuesday's meeting.)

It’s a change Duffy says would prevent her from attending the school of her choice.

"I wouldn't be able to because my mother and father both work in the mornings, so I would have a ride to school," she says.

Duffy attends Manatee School for the Arts, one of the district's 11 charter schools. 4 of which currently have contracts with the district to provide bus transportation, paying more than $400,000 for the service. Charter school officials say the proposal to end the contract could have a devastating impact on their enrollment.

"I like to look at it as we've been put between a rock and a hard place," says Terence Devine, assistant principal at Manatee School for the Arts, which is the largest charter school in the district. About 1200 students at Manatee School for the Arts currently use the service.

"It would adversely affect a lot of students and their ability to come to school each day"

ABC 7 reached out to school district officials for comment but they said they were not available to speak on the matter. However, in the district’s proposal they list a cost savings of $55,000 a year.

Students like Angelika Robison says those savings don’t come close the educational value she received the last 3 years at her charter school.

"If a lot of kids [are denied] transportation here, … a lot of student wouldn’t get the experience, which is unfair for them because everyone should have a great high school [and] middle school experience like I did,” she says.