Frustrated by the ballooning cost of busing students across the city, then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino declared a decade ago that “I will not allow us to pour dollar after dollar into gas tanks when we could invest more of that money into our classrooms.”
Yet since Menino uttered those words in his State of the City address in the Strand Theatre in 2008, school transportation spending in Boston escalated from about $76 million to $122.5 million last school year, even after officials overhauled the school assignment process to allow more students to attend classes closer to home.
Now a new set of city and school officials are raising questions about whether busing should be dramatically scaled back so more money can be spent on boosting school quality. The debate has gained momentum following a Northeastern University report last week that revealed many black and Latino students are not being assigned to high-quality schools.
But the cost savings might not be as plentiful as people think. Ferrying students under the school assignment system represented less than a third of transportation costs last year, ringing in at $37.2 million.
So what is the biggest driver of transportation spending?
The school system spent $59.4 million last year shuttling students with disabilities who require “door-to-door” service on their journeys to and from district, charter, or parochial schools, or specialized programs, including those outside the city.
Here’s a breakdown of the other costs:
■ $10.6 million transporting students from traditional bus stops to charter schools, a cost the school system must pick up under state law.
■ $1.9 million busing students from traditional bus stops to parochial and private schools, also required under state law.
■ $6.6 million ferrying homeless students, including those in temporary housing outside the city.
■ $5.5 million on MBTA passes for middle and high school students, including those enrolled at a district, charter, parochial, or private school.
■ $1.3 million on athletic transportation.
In all, the school system covers the transportation costs for 45,041 district, charter, parochial, and private school students.
And even though charter schools are open to students citywide, school department data indicated that the per-pupil cost of transporting charter students was actually slightly less than that for district students, $2,326 versus $2,365. Those calculations include only students who use regular bus stops, not door-to-door service.