If Chippewa Valley Schools doesn’t voluntarily restore bus service for resident children who attend parochial schools in Clinton Township, a group of parents say court action may be the next step.
For approximately 44 years, Chippewa Valley provided bus service to St. Thecla Catholic and St. Luke Lutheran schools for children residing in the district. Two years ago, citing budget cuts, the district eliminated this service.
Now parents at St. Thecla are asking the board of education to uphold their end of a 1966 voter mandate they say compels the district to provide this bus service.
“As a taxpayer in Clinton Township, I came before this board in the hope that you would voluntarily restore that service,” said Simon Haddad, a Clinton Township resident and parent of five at St. Thecla.
“My children, even though they attend catholic school, because that’s the education I choose to give to them, I want them to be able to benefit in some way, shape or form from the substantial contribution that I make in the form of property taxes to this district," he added.
Homeowners in the Chippewa Valley district pay 7.65 mills annually on their summer taxes – a contribution Haddad said includes funding for transportation to which his children should have access.
Budget cuts reduce transportation to all areas
Facing losses in state funding and declining property values, the district made significant cuts in 2010, with transportation being one of the first departments affected.
When service to Clinton Township's parochial schools was eliminated, noon-time kindergarten transportation was also discontinued and several bus routes in the 21 Mile Road and Heydenreich area reduced.
At present, Chippewa Valley has more than 16,300 students of which 4,453 are considered “walkers” to school and do not receive transportation services to district buildings, said community relations director Diane Blain.
No legal obligation to provide out-of-district busing
While school board President George Sobah said he and fellow board members are looking into the issue, no decision regarding parochial busing has been made at this time.
Under Michigan law, school districts are only required to transport, or pay for the transportation of resident students to non-public schools within the district’s boundaries, which is why Chippewa Valley buses can be seen transporting Immanuel Lutheran School students.
However, there is nothing in Michigan law that states a school district must transport or pay for the transportation of resident students to non-public schools outside the district’s boundaries, where St. Thecla and St. Luke are located.
“It is something that is being followed through on,” Sobah said, addressing St. Thecla parents at the Sept. 17 school board meeting. “We started last week, doing our homework, researching. We’re going to follow through at later date.”
Although Haddad remains optimistic that an “amicable resolution” will be reached, he said parents have discussed entering a class action lawsuit if there is no remedy to the situation.
Approximately 150 parents have expressed interest in restoring bus service to St. Thecla. They are acting independently of school administration.