In response to rising numbers of homeless students and their need for transportation, sometimes out of Milford city limits, the Milford School District has renegotiated its transportation contracts in order to accommodate those students.
Previously one of the highest paying districts in the state, the Milford School District accrued more than $800,000 in homeless transportation costs last year, $80,000 of which was paid by the district.
With the new agreement, the district will save $20 each way on homeless transportation costs, for a yearly average of approximately $422,400, savings that will be realized by both the district and the state.
“The district gets to set [its] own fees. There’s not a statewide formula to calculate [transportation fees],” Milford School District Superintendent Phyllis Kohel said. “Although the bus contractors would not prefer that we lower our [fees], it just made financial sense.”
Throughout the past three years, homeless students within the district have more than doubled, from 77 students identified in 2010-2011 to 164 identified in 2012-2013. Kohel said only 37 students have been identified by the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, but she expects that number to increase dramatically.
Kohel said that while the current economy is creating a lot of hardship for many families, it’s also the definition of homelessness that drives these numbers up. For example, foster children are considered homeless, as are student in families that have to move in with family members.
“Even though they’re living in a stable home with shelter and food, they’re doubled up and in the eyes of the state those children are considered homeless,” she said. “We have a lot of that going on.”
Dennis Rozumalski, Delaware Department of Education student services and special populations education associate, said statewide numbers have also increased since the 2010-2011 school year, from 3,073 homeless students identified statewide to 4,380 students identified during the 2012-2013 school year.
As the homeless student population increases, Kohel said the district is prepared to help these students and families through programs and referral services offered by the district’s homeless liaison, Craig Warrington, as well as partnerships with state and local organizations, like state-funded meal programs and donations from organizations and businesses for school supplies.
“There’s just so much this community does to help those in need. We’re very fortunate in that,” Kohel said. “Between the state, the school district and the community, there are a lot of things done and programs available, not just for our homeless students, but for any students at risk.”