EAST PROVIDENCE — As with most things new and different, a certain amount of concern and consternation has come with the announcement by the East Providence School Department of changes to the walking distances/bus-riding eligibility of students for the 2012-13 term.
Per a Budget Commission decision, the eligibility distances for students at all levels were increased — high school from 1.5 miles to 2 miles; middle school from 1 miles to 1.5 miles and elementary school from three-quarters of a mile to 1 mile.
As a means of comparison, East Providence now matches the eligibility distances of Providence, except for students in Grades 10 to 12 who must walk within three miles of their school. Pawtucket does not offer buses to students in Grades 7 to 12. For Grades K to 6, students must live outside of a .75 radial mile to receive transportation.
“We’re fielding calls. We’re responding to whatever concerns are out there,” said Interim School Superintendent Dr. John DeGoes. “What we’re telling parents is we don’t know yet how many kids are riding the buses. We have to wait and see how that plays out. But we are paying close attention and we will respond to any changes that are necessary.”
The number of crossing guards tasked with assisting youngsters to their appropriate schools has actually been increased due to a call from one concerned parent.
The School Department in conjunction with the East Providence Police Department has implemented one additional crossing guard at the intersection of Wannisett and Crescent View Avenues for students walking to Waddington Elementary. The new guard will be posted from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. and from 3:15 to 4 p.m.
“It’s the only call I’ve personally received,” EPPD Community Police Supervisor Sergeant John Andrews said in regard to the eligibility changes. “A resident in that neighborhood expressed concern that about 15 or 20 kids would be walking to school there, so we added a crossing guard to the area.”
The new guard at Wannisett brings the total number of crossing guards to 18. Sixteen of the guards earn $30 a day for the 180-day school calendar or $5,400 each. One crossing guard each posted on Pawtucket Avenue at both East Providence High School and St. Mary Academy-Bay View earn $50 per day for the school year or $9,000. Sgt. Andrews said the added expense is due to the significantly larger amount of traffic control each guard performs at those two locations.
To date, there have been no calls or any decisions to add any other guards at what could be deemed high-traffic spots for students at other points on Pawtucket Avenue or Newport Avenue.
“Adjustments are possible down the line,” Sgt. Andrews said.
Of the possible increase in volume of students, he added, “All of the guards have been on the job for over two years. They’re well aware of what they need to do. They’re ready. Even though there may be more kids, we already have crossing guards at most of the major intersections.”
School, police and political officials continue to brace for the likelihood of calls from parents once the new rules are actually put into place come the start of school Thursday, Sept. 6, and beyond.
“If we’re asking children to cross major intersections, we also better be asking for police supervision,” said School Committee Chairman Charlie Tsonos, who has already fielded a handful of inquiries from parents. “No rule should be put into place that puts any child in jeopardy, Budget Commission or no Budget Commission.”