This week, CMSD announced it is bringing back yellow school buses for 7th and 8th graders this school year. The return to district-provided rides was made possible by $7 million in federal COVID relief money, which allowed the district to purchase 80 new buses.
School officials made the announcement on Monday, new CEO Warren Morgan’s first day on the job. (Morgan’s predecessor, Eric Gordon, initiated the push for more buses.).
Prior to the purchase of the new buses, only about 220 of the district’s 300 buses were running, Eric Taylor, CMSD’s executive director of transportation, told Signal Cleveland. Of the buses that were working, many were dedicated to transporting students attending charter schools and other nonpublic schools, a responsibility that state law puts on the school district.
Since the 2014-15 school year, middle school students who live more than a mile from their school, with the exception of popular city-wide-draw K-8 schools such as Campus International, have been given passes to ride public transportation. High school students also have access to the passes.
The district stopped servicing 7th and 8th graders in 2014 due to budget cuts. Taylor said that getting CMSD’s 7th and 8th grade students back on buses is something he has been trying to do since he started his job seven years ago.
“It’s kind of been a vision for me since I’ve been doing this,” he said, adding that the decision to put 7th and 8th graders on public transportation was very unpopular among CMSD families.
New buses improve parity
Taylor said new CMSD school buses will improve the balance between public and private or charter schools students. State law mandated that district transport all K-8 students enrolled in non public schools within the district, including 7th and 8th graders. That meant the district was not left with enough school buses to transport all students attending public schools.
“At that point we were transporting nonpublic middle school students on school buses, but public students still remained on public transportation,” he said. “So that was the first thing with me that didn’t sit well. I was looking at it from an equity point of view.”
Now, the district’s middle school students have the same opportunity to ride school buses, but they are also still eligible to continue receiving bus passes for the Greater Cleveland Transit Authority, Taylor said.
Under CMSD’s new policy, students in grades K-8 must live one mile or more from their home school to receive transportation. And to receive transportation on CMSD school buses, students must live within a one-to-three-mile radius of their school except citywide draw schools.