New bill proposes change to Bristol Warren's bus region

According to RIDE, 79 students currently utilize transportation for out of district schools

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 2/14/23

A new bill would move Bristol Warren into a region alongside more nearby school districts, and could impact families who send their kids to schools in Providence, Pawtucket, and elsewhere in Rhode Island.

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New bill proposes change to Bristol Warren's bus region

According to RIDE, 79 students currently utilize transportation for out of district schools


A new bill submitted to the Rhode Island House of Representatives seeks to swap the Bristol Warren Regional School District from its current busing region to one that includes districts that are much closer geographically — and proponents of the switch say it could save as much as a half million dollars a year in transportation costs.

The potential repercussions would be an end to a free ride (literally) for nearly 80 students in Bristol and Warren who utilize district transportation to attend other schools outside of Bristol and Warren, to places such as Pawtucket, Providence and beyond.

The bill (H5252) — co-sponsored by Reps. Susan Donovan, June Speakman, and Jason Knight — is currently being held for further study by the House Education Committee, and would amend the language of current law dictating which municipalities each school district is required to pay for transportation to send students to if they choose to attend.

As the law is currently written, Bristol Warren is in Region 3, alongside the towns of Lincoln, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence, Barrington, and the cities of Cranston, Central Falls, East Providence, Pawtucket, and Providence.

The amendment would seek to place Bristol Warren in Region 5, alongside the towns of Little Compton, Middletown, Portsmouth, and Tiverton, and the city of Newport.

For context, Mt. Hope High School is located approximately 33 miles away from Smithfield, and 29 miles away from Johnston. It is just 17.5 miles away from Little Compton, and 14 miles away from Newport.

Bristol Warren School Committee Chairperson Nicky Piper, interviewed last week after she testified at the State House in support of the bill, said that the district could realize savings close to $500,000 if the change goes through. She said the district currently pays about $945,000 in transportation for students attending out of district schools, and gets about $400,000 of that back through reimbursements, she said.

According to a resolution passed by the full school committee on Monday night, projected costs of transporting students in the current configuration is estimated to increase to $1.2 million.

“These additional transportation costs are having a significant impact on the local school district budget and forces the district to move funds from other areas of their operating budgets to cover these increased transportation costs causing undue burden and inequity across the district,” the resolution, which was approved unanimously, states.

A larger conversation is likely before anything passes
Piper said that the RI House was seeking more detailed information from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) regarding how many families would potentially be affected by the change, and she offered a hypothesis that this bill would spark a much larger conversation about how these busing regions were drawn up in the first place.

“This is not something that can happen in isolation,” Piper said. “My guess would be that this will lead to a much larger statewide conversation about these transportation regions and why they were set up the way they were, and that maybe it’s time to look at them again.”

Piper said that she was hopeful that there could be some kind of compromise regarding kids who utilized district-provided transportation to attend out-of-district CTE programs, such as the ones at the Met Career and Technical Center in Providence, where RIDE data shows multiple Bristol Warren students attend.

“With the growth in CTE programs, there’s more kids going out of district to other public schools, so I think it’s probably a good time for this conversation,” she said.

Reached for comment, Rep. Susan Donovan said that parents should contact the Bristol Warren School Committee should they have concerns about the potential change.

“All three Bristol Warren representatives co-sponsored the legislation at the request of the Superintendent and School Committee,” she said. “I hope that those who may be affected by changes in the transportation district will make their thoughts known to the School Committee.”

RIDE communications director Victor Morente confirmed that there were currently 79 students who live in Bristol or Warren that utilize district transportation to attend private, parochial, charter, and vocational schools in Region 3.

“These 79 students would no longer qualify for Statewide busing if this bill was passed,” Morente said.

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