News

District eyes bus for VTP high school students

Transportation identified as critical issue for East Palo Alto students attending Palo Alto schools

Update: At its Feb. 24 meeting, the school board asked some clarifying questions about who this new bus would serve and when and where it would run, but overall indicated support for purchasing a dedicated bus for VTP students.

Palo Alto High School graduate David Chatman wishes there had been a dedicated bus to ease the often grueling, undependable and limiting commute that Paly students who live in East Palo Alto take. He, like many of the Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP) students who currently attend Paly, depended on public transportation to get to and from school every day.

Chatman called the public bus "an inconvenient convenience." It got him to school but not always on time. The infrequency of buses in the evenings affected whether he would play football and basketball (he did, though it was difficult). And when it wasn't convenient to catch the bus, he would sometimes walk home from school or have a friend drop him off at the U.S. Highway 101 overpass that connects the two cities.

"I know kids in East Palo Alto still go through that today, just jumping on the bus, trying to get between cities," he said. "I know it's hard."

The district is proposing to ease the 40-to-60-minute commute by purchasing a dedicated bus, the possibility of which the school board will discuss at its meeting Tuesday night. If approved, the purchase could take up to six months to complete.

Transportation has a significant impact on the lives of the 585 VTP students -- and their families -- enrolled in the district through a longtime program that allows a select number of Ravenswood City School District students to attend Palo Alto Unified schools, but it's particularly challenging for high schoolers.

VTP students can take school buses until 9th grade, at which point they can apply for free passes to take public transportation to school. (Though for the first time this year, a few Paly freshmen were able to take a Jordan Middle School bus to school as part of a pilot program.) The City of Palo Alto does now run a free shuttle from East Palo Alto, but it only stops at the downtown Caltrain station and at City Hall.

Some students get rides from parents, friends or carpools, but for those who depend on public transportation, it affects their sleep; decisions about whether or not to participate in sports, extracurriculars or external support programs; and hanging out with friends after school or seeking help from teachers.

"There were times my sophomore year I was contemplating not playing football, just because I was in transition, trying to be really good at school, trying to get homework done," Chatman recalled. "By the time I get home (from football) I'm tired because I've been on the bus for the last hour and half going through traffic in downtown Palo Alto. ... To focus on homework was almost close to impossible."

Chatman said the commute put a strain on his mother, too. She would pick him up on the days when he was exhausted and didn't want to take the bus.

"Those are the days my mom would come get me," he said. "She would take off work or try to fight traffic to come pick me up. It was just a tough battle all the way around – taking the bus or getting a ride from my parents."

"It's just really frustrating," said Paly senior Tiffany Fields, whose mother, a school bus driver, has for four years driven her to a bus stop farther from their East Palo Alto home in the morning so she can catch a 7:15 a.m. bus that gets her to school in time for first period at 8:15 a.m. (There is a bus that stops closer to her house but only at 6:50 a.m. and 7:50 a.m. She knows some students who opt for the earlier time.)

"It's just annoying, having to get to school so early, having to rush to school. Sometimes when you do all-nighters to study, it really sucks not being able to get that extra 30 minutes of sleep," Fields said.

After school, Fields often chooses to catch a bus that comes fives minutes after seventh period gets out, at 3:25 p.m., rather than stay to talk to teachers or hang out with friends. She missed the bus one morning last week and decided to stay home for the day.

Fields said taking the bus also is often an unpleasant experience. Recently, a guy on the bus who she thought was "crazy" instigated a fight with two students; another day, a man was taking photos of her, so she got off and called a friend to pick her up.

"I think a new bus would help a lot. I feel like a lot more kids that don't even catch the city bus would feel a lot more comfortable catching (a school bus)," Fields said. "Some peoples' parents just don't want them catching a city bus. They don't think it's safe so they make them wait or they find someone else to take them."

The story is slightly different for Gunn High School VTP students, who don't have a school bus but often take one that runs to and from Terman Middle School, just down the street from Gunn. The timing also works for them -- the Gunn school day starts 10 minutes later than Paly's, unless students are taking a zero-period class at 7:20 a.m.

There are also far fewer VTP students at Gunn: about 24 this year compared to Paly's 126, according to District Education Services Coordinator Judy Argumedo, who oversees the VTP program and has been pushing for a dedicated East Palo Alto school bus for more than a year.

"I really feel strongly that these are some of the obstacles that can really hurt students," she said.

Argumedo hopes that she can offer the new bus, which would serve approximately 60 students each day and cost the district $175,000, as an option to every incoming Paly VTP student next year.

Maria Arias, the mother of a current Paly freshman and El Carmelo Elementary School first-grader, has to shift her morning routine if her son and daughter can't take the school or city bus and she has to drop each off before going to work.

"I think it would be better if there were a bus," she told the Weekly in Spanish.

Transportation has been repeatedly brought up at meetings of the district's minority achievement and talent development committee by members who view differences in access to transportation as an obstacle to academic achievement.

"Transportation is one big resonating problem because, as one principal was telling me, if that hour doesn't go well on the way there, the rest of the learning, the rest of the day does not go well either," committee member and parent Carmen Munoz said at the group's Feb. 3 meeting. "These are things that affect the kids' learning."

Chatman, who took five years to graduate, said he might have been a different student if he had had more flexible, dependable transportation options.

The board will discuss the bus purchase as part of a second interim financial report at its Tuesday, Feb. 24, meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. Other items of business include a discussion of both high schools' Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) reports and board action on a pilot Mandarin-immersion program for Jordan Middle School.

View the full agenda here.

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 23, 2015 at 5:32 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

Thank you, thank you, thank you


10 people like this
Posted by Old but wise
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 23, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Oh how I wish there were school busses for everyone. Every day I deal with the high school drivers. The high school kids that bike to school up East Meadow, and then Maybelle., are really putting their lives on the line....there just is not the space, and car drivers do not observe the "three foot rule". Throw in the bicyclists who do not stop at lights or stop signs, and its treacherous. I would celebrate the day I see those yellow busses ahead of me!!!


8 people like this
Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 23, 2015 at 6:44 pm

How did PAUSD not already have a but going to EPA? They talk about ways to lessen the achievement gap, but then don't even bother to get them to school? Does the district use all of the busses it currently has? Are those only for elementary and middle school?

If they're picking up kids from EPA and taking them to Jordan or Hays or Escondido, and then the busses need to go back to PAHS where the bus yard is, why not have students on those busses? As it is the busses go from EPA to PAHS, so why not put some high school students who need rides on those busses????


2 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2015 at 6:47 pm

[Post removed due to inaccurate assertions of fact. The Palo Alto school district receives funding from the Ravenswood School District for each VTP student equal to 70 percent of the state funding formula.]


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:12 pm

This article indicates the number of VTP students is 560.

Page 14 of the "Palo Alto Unified School District 2014‐15 Budget" document says:
"VTP enrollment for 2014‐15 is 620."

Does that mean 10 percent are generally not showing up?
Or do people just count differently?


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Maybe answered my own question. The budget document, dated June 2014, does caution that it is of necessity a set of predictions and projections.


7 people like this
Posted by cost?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:52 pm

What would be the yearly cost of the EPA->PAUSD bus? Could Ravenswood help defray some of this cost?


16 people like this
Posted by Well
a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Ravenswood should have to pay for the bus since it's their residents traveling to Palo Alto schools.

VTP originated back in the 80s when PAUSD enrollment was down and they even closed Jordan during 1985-1991 due to low enrollment. Times have changed and we no longer have low enrollment in PAUSD. In fact, we are overflowing, with elementary school classes up to 24 students.


6 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 23, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Well - it doesn't matter how full or not the schools are. Quit pretending that that has any bearing on the legal ruling, or the need for buses.


10 people like this
Posted by Agreed
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2015 at 9:27 pm

Absolutely agree with "Well" that Ravenswood should foot the bill for this. If there is money available for busing let it be spent on students who reside in Palo Alto.


4 people like this
Posted by Well
a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 23, 2015 at 9:40 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Elena Kadvany
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2015 at 8:40 am

Musical: Thank you for pointing that out. The district website lists 560 as the total number, but District Education Services Coordinator Judy Argumedo said last night that this year's district total is 585.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 24, 2015 at 8:54 am

@Elena -- I also read somewhere there's a cap on the number at 600. Don't know whether it's a soft limit or a hard limit.


12 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:28 am

As a parent with two children to have gone through PAUSD via VTP I somehow don't understand the reasoning of many VTP parents. Of course it would be extremely helpful to have a bus that would take a high school student from EPA to PAHS, but buses only run at certain times so participating in any extracurricular activity would still be a factor or how many stops will the bus make as EPA is pretty spread out. As a parent, it is the parent's job to get their child to school. Applying for the VTP program is a concious decision that is made by the parent, taking into the fact that the parent must decifer the childs transportation needs from K-12 before applying/being accepted into the program. As my children have gone to the different PAUSD, I, their parent, had to figure out how to get them to school, how to get them home, how they would get home from extracurricular activities, etc. I wanted my children to attend school in PAUSD, so I had to figure out their transportation needs and NEVER depended on the PAUSD buses or community buses. I would change my shift at work to accomodate my childrens school needs, because I wanted them to attend a school in PAUSD. Parents need to not depend on the district to figure out how your child gets to school. If you want them to attend a different school district then you as a parent make sacrifices [if you can drive them to the bus stop, you can drive them to school]. The student can hang out on campus, in the library, at town and country, etc. It is the parent's responsiblity not the schools to figure out how the student gets to school.


Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:28 am

As a parent with two children to have gone through PAUSD via VTP I somehow don't understand the reasoning of many VTP parents. Of course it would be extremely helpful to have a bus that would take a high school student from EPA to PAHS, but buses only run at certain times so participating in any extracurricular activity would still be a factor or how many stops will the bus make as EPA is pretty spread out. As a parent, it is the parent's job to get their child to school. Applying for the VTP program is a concious decision that is made by the parent, taking into the fact that the parent must decifer the childs transportation needs from K-12 before applying/being accepted into the program. As my children have gone to the different PAUSD, I, their parent, had to figure out how to get them to school, how to get them home, how they would get home from extracurricular activities, etc. I wanted my children to attend school in PAUSD, so I had to figure out their transportation needs and NEVER depended on the PAUSD buses or community buses. I would change my shift at work to accomodate my childrens school needs, because I wanted them to attend a school in PAUSD. Parents need to not depend on the district to figure out how your child gets to school. If you want them to attend a different school district then you as a parent make sacrifices [if you can drive them to the bus stop, you can drive them to school]. The student can hang out on campus, in the library, at town and country, etc. It is the parent's responsiblity not the schools to figure out how the student gets to school.


2 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:28 am

As a parent with two children to have gone through PAUSD via VTP I somehow don't understand the reasoning of many VTP parents. Of course it would be extremely helpful to have a bus that would take a high school student from EPA to PAHS, but buses only run at certain times so participating in any extracurricular activity would still be a factor or how many stops will the bus make as EPA is pretty spread out. As a parent, it is the parent's job to get their child to school. Applying for the VTP program is a concious decision that is made by the parent, taking into the fact that the parent must decifer the childs transportation needs from K-12 before applying/being accepted into the program. As my children have gone to the different PAUSD, I, their parent, had to figure out how to get them to school, how to get them home, how they would get home from extracurricular activities, etc. I wanted my children to attend school in PAUSD, so I had to figure out their transportation needs and NEVER depended on the PAUSD buses or community buses. I would change my shift at work to accomodate my childrens school needs, because I wanted them to attend a school in PAUSD. Parents need to not depend on the district to figure out how your child gets to school. If you want them to attend a different school district then you as a parent make sacrifices [if you can drive them to the bus stop, you can drive them to school]. The student can hang out on campus, in the library, at town and country, etc. It is the parent's responsiblity not the schools to figure out how the student gets to school.


9 people like this
Posted by anniebiped
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:09 pm

VTP had nothing to do with a decreased school population, and everything to do with segregation. In many ways the VTP in PAUSD has been a tremendously successful program. As it has matured, we have been able to more finely tune it to continue its success. Since transportation for high schoolers has been identified as a problem, let's propose solutions and fix the problem. Investing in our children is a recipe for a successful future.


3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:23 pm

PAUSD already receives funds via state transfer of Ravenswood/SUHSD monies on a per student basis. No need to ask for more. If you want to talk about finding ways to help kids to improve their academic performance...minimizing commute time and/or uncertainty is a step in the right direction.

IMHO, just buy a couple of more school buses...which then can be used for other PAUSD transportation needs...no need to purchase the more expensive transit type bus. Unless I'm missing something here.


3 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Why should Ravenswood foot the bill?


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:41 pm

We have free shuttles in Palo Alto which serve some of our students.

Why should they be free?

We should get more shuttles around town and we should charge a reasonable fare. All our schools should be served by these shuttles and all our kids who have more than a mile to get to middle or high schools should be within walking distance of a bus/shuttle to get them to school. These shuttles should be available to anyone who wants them and should not be free.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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