Winooski parents concerned about future of school bus program

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WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) For years, dozens of Winooski students walked to school in the bitterly cold Vermont winters. It prompted the school district to launch a program to give students a free ride. But now, there are concerns about the future of the program.

"This has been really helpful for us," said Preshend Singh, a parent of Winooski students.

The Winter Transportation Pilot Program started in January. Even though the ride is just to school, parents are happy to see kids off the streets during the early morning winter commute.

"They're cold, not all of these kids dress properly for the weather, whether they can't afford it or they chose not to," said Melissa Gonyon, a parent and school bus monitor. "So, it's just good to have them get a nice warm ride to school."

Before the bus program, more than 100 students had no other choice but to walk. And some say they lived over a mile from school.

"Walking to school in the winter, it's been very bitter cold," said Maiella Oliver, a Winooski student.

Friday, the free program is coming to an end for this winter season, and students in the southwestern corner of Winooski will once again make the long trek.

"If you're a single mom and you don't have a car and you have a kindergartener, you have to walk your child to school. If you can't walk your child to school, they're not going," said Gonyon.

Parents are pushing for the district to provide these free bus rides year around.

"It's really about costs," said Alex Yin, a Winooski School Board Member.

The winter bus program costs the city about $75,000 a year. Yin says a year-round program could result in higher taxes.

"We can't increase the tax base so high that we force out the people that this was meant for," said Yin.

Yin says the winter program will continue next season. He hopes it will be provided in the years to follow. That will depend on the district's budget.