Sen. Ujifusa and Rep. Cortvriend seek update of statewide school transportation system


STATE HOUSE – It’s been 47 years since Rhode Island established its statewide school transportation system, and Sen. Linda Ujifusa and Rep. Terri Cortvriend believe it’s time to re-examine its oddly configured regions, its costs and whether there might be a more efficient way of getting schoolchildren to out-of-district schools.

With the backing of the Portsmouth and Bristol-Warren school committees, Senator Ujifusa (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol) and Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) have introduced a resolution (2024-S 2523A, 2024-H 7615) to create a joint legislative commission to study student transportation needs and system costs.

“Many school districts are facing enormous costs for transporting students to schools across far-flung regions, and they have no control over the cost of the statewide transportation system, or the size of the region to which they are assigned. At the very least, after nearly a half-century of this system, we should take a look at this program and determine how we can improve it so it’s more efficient, cost-effective and beneficial to our students,” said Senator Ujifusa.

State law requires local school districts to pay the costs of transporting students outside their districts if they have special needs that can’t be met locally or they attend a private, parochial, charter or career and technical school within the district’s assigned transportation region. The law requires districts to use a statewide transportation service administered by the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE), or seek a variance from RIDE, for instance, to use district-owned buses, but receive no reimbursement.

“In 2023, Portsmouth spent over $600,000 on out-of-district transportation,” notes Representative Cortvriend. “With more students attending out-of-district career and tech programs, it makes sense to study what has likely become an outdated transportation system.”

The state law creating the program in 1977 sliced the state into five regions. While some regions include four or five communities, Region 3, which includes Bristol and Warren, consists of 12 cities and towns, most of which are on the other side of Narragansett Bay. That means the district has to pay to transport students to schools as far away as Johnston or Cranston.

Senator Ujifusa has also introduced separate legislation (2024-S 2040) at the Bristol-Warren Regional School Committee’s request to move Bristol and Warren to smaller and nearer Region 5, which includes the majority of the East Bay communities (Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport).  According to a resolution passed by the school committee, transportation costs associated with being in Region 3 add $1.2 million dollars on the local school budget. Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) is sponsoring identical legislation in the House (2024-H 7292).

The resolution creating the study commission currently calls for the creation of a 13-member commission that would include legislators and representatives from the Department of Education, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees (RIASC), the Rhode Island School Superintendents’ Association (RISSA), the Rhode Island PTA, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, the state Division of Planning and Teamsters Local 251. The commission would be expected to report back to the General Assembly by Jan. 5, 2025


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