RPS bus service for preschool program not in full operation

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 9/20/2019, 6 a.m.
The free bus service that was supposed to drive more parents to enroll their 4-year-old children in a Richmond Public …
Mr. Simmons

The free bus service that was supposed to drive more parents to enroll their 4-year-old children in a Richmond Public Schools preschool program has yet to fully materialize despite administrative promises.

While some bus service is underway three weeks after school began, it is not clear that a majority of children are being served.

RPS Chief of Staff Michelle Hudacsko stated in an email to the Free Press on Sept. 3, opening day for the 2019-20 academic year, that the school system “absolutely followed through (in) providing transportation” for children enrolled in preschool.

“Every enrolled Virginia Preschool Initiative student — at every center and school — has been offered transportation,” she continued. “Once all families are enrolled and interest is indicated, we will finalize routes with the goal of ensuring the shortest possible route times.”

She urged parents who did not receive information on the bus option to email her at MHudacsko@rvaschools.net.

Based on Free Press checks following her statement, some buses are delivering

children to various centers. However, parents still appear to be delivering many of the children to the five centers where VPI classes are held and to schools that host additional VPI classrooms.

The Free Press also found that RPS waited until Sept. 11 to post on VPI’s Facebook page a notice to parents that bus service would be available, although no details were offered and no mention was made of the state requirement that makes preschool transportation mandatory.

No information that transportation is provided is included on the VPI pages on RPS’ website.

That appears to be far less than Superintendent Jason Kamras promised the School Board at its June 17 meeting.

Mr. Kamras said then that restoration of the preschool bus service, which had been shut down several years ago in a cost-cutting move, was a positive coup for RPS and parents. He said RPS was planning a marketing campaign to spread the word about VPI and the availability of transportation.

At the time, the School Board was told that RPS was projecting 917 students would be enrolled in the VPI and VPI Plus programs as of the start of the 2019-20 school year, although fewer than 600 students were signed up at that point. Participation has been shrinking in the preschool programs that used to serve nearly 1,100 students.

Despite Ms. Hudacsko’s statement, RPS Chief Operating Officer Darin Simmons Jr. told the School Board that night that the busing operation for preschool children was still a work in progress. He said parents would be asked to provide information on whether they would need transportation.

He indicated that a full update on transportation and VPI enrollment likely would

not be available until early October. Several parents, who asked that their names not be published, told the Free Press they were informed during VPI orientation that free transportation might be available, but added they have not received any information or letter about it.

“Bus service would be great,” said one parent who had a friend drive her and her child to the preschool program, “I don’t have a car. And it would make it much easier for me.”