BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville School Department spent $520,074 in transportation expenses for students who were either homeless, or in need of special education that could not be provided within the district during the 2018/2019 school year.

Special Education transportation made up the bulk of the expense, costing $465,980 for an average of 14 students per month. That figure was up from $453,945 the previous year. 

The expense for transporting homeless students was also larger than anticipated, mostly due to several former Burrillville students living out-of-state and needing transportation over longer distances. 

Curriculum Director Julie Mayhew said that 55 students who attended Burrillville schools registered as homeless last school year, a number that’s been fairly consistent over the past several years.

The district budgeted $5,000 for that transportation expense, needed to comply with federal law, which dictates that schools are responsible for transporting homeless students to their district of origin. The rule is intended to protect the students experiencing homelessness from the destabilization of having to move from school to school.

“Sometimes, families will contact us and let us know. Sometimes, there is a change of address that shows us a family is ‘doubling up’ with another family,” said Mayhew. “Sometimes we are contacted by friends or relatives of a family and told that they are experiencing hardship, so we follow up to see how we can support them.”

That cost in FY 18/19 was $17,931, more than three times more than anticipated. 

“If they’re a student in Burrillville, then we are responsible for their transportation regardless of where they are living when they’re designated as homeless,” explained Supt. Michael Sollitto.

According to the McKinney-Vento Act, transportation to the origin school must be provided for as long as the student does not have permanent housing. The law also dictates that if a student secures a permanent residence midway through a school year outside their district of origin, he or she can continue to attend the school of origin until the end of that school year.

The cost is typically shared between the student’s new and old districts, and travel must be provided through Statewide Transportation, as school officials are not permitted to contract with other bus companies.
 
While the number of Burrillville students registered as “homeless” has not grown – 57 registered as homeless the previous year – the expense increased in 2019 due to those living out of state.
 
“The daily mileage was far greater than usual,” said Mayhew.  “Typically, we are transporting from nearby towns like Woonsocket.”
 
Mayhew said the district has seen situations where families were homeless for a very short time, and situations where families have been displaced for more than a year.
 
“It is rarer for families to be displaced and stay with us over multiple school years, but it does happen,” she said. 
 
“What’s hard, of course, is the significant financial burden this places on towns,” Mayhew said. “However, for the kids it’s so important that in a time of upheaval they have a constant they can depend on in the form of their school community.”

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