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McX Machine Magnet School Bus Service

This year only eight of students from central and Eastern Greenwich to participate in the Hamilton Avenue magnet programs, new Lebanon and West Middle school. The school principal William McX is hoping to change this program provides bus services next year to expand the magnetic.

In the current system, the district generally only provides bus service to magnet students if their neighborhood elementary school and the magnet they attend feed into the same middle school. In contrast, McKersie wants to use about $120,000 in next year's operating budget to offer townwide bus service to Hamilton Avenue, New Lebanon and Western Middle schools.

"Our best chances for success with magnet schools are to provide a high quality program and to minimize obstacles for attendance," said McKersie.

The proposal calls for adding three new buses to serve that trio of schools. Magnet students would not be on a bus for more than 30 minutes on any of the routes, according to the proposal.

Some route details are yet to be finalized. Depending on where magnet students live, the routes might combine stops near students' homes with "hub" stops at other elementary schools along the routes.

School officials have been extensively reviewing magnet bus service this year because the magnet schools are at the center of the district's new racial-balance plan. The school board approved last June a new bus policy that called for the district to consider extending magnet bus service "based on student demand and prudent financial policy."

Transportation has always presented an obstacle to increasing magnet enrollment -- especially in a town that covers almost 70 square miles and whose main roads are clogged with traffic for much of the day. And it is debatable the extent to which expanded bus service could persuade more families to send their children to a school in a different part of town. In a survey last year of elementary-school parents, 54 percent said they would not be willing to have their children take a bus to school. Another 41 percent said they would be willing, if the bus ride were no more than 25 minutes.

On the same survey, a total of 26 percent said they would definitely or probably send their children to another district school outside their neighborhood, if door-to-door bus service were provided. A total of 16 percent said they would definitely or probably make the same decision, if bus service from "a central location in your neighborhood" were offered.

"I'm not entirely convinced yet that we have the demand yet for three buses," Board of Education member Laura Erickson said at last week's board meeting.

"It is the administration's best thinking, based on the current geographic dispersion of the students, in order to provide transportation, we need that number of buses to move the students," responded Ben Branyan, the district's managing director of operations.

This year, there are only five magnet students from central and eastern Greenwich at Hamilton Avenue and just three magnet students from those areas at New Lebanon. New Lebanon has only 11 magnet students total this year, a dearth driven by a moratorium on taking new ones because of the school's overcrowding.

The launch of the magnet program this year at Western Middle showed the difficulty of attracting magnet students when none enrolled.

School officials see The International School at Dundee as a possible source of Western Middle magnet students because both schools have an International Baccalaureate program. But, even there, recruitment looks challenging.

"In speaking with parents, I do not get a feeling that many are even aware of the magnet program at Western Middle School," said Patricia Carey, PTA co-president at ISD. "I think parents need more information in general about WMS. I think transportation may help get some families interested and is a good place to start."

The school board is scheduled to continue its review of McKersie's proposed 2015-16 budget at its Dec. 11 meeting, at 7 p.m., at Cos Cob

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