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SD Unified Approves Free Bus Passes For Low-Income Students

Above: Alfredo Mendez, 18, says buying a monthly bus pass to get to school and internships is a heavy burden for his mom, a single parent who makes minimum wage.

City Heights youths chanted "more transportation, better education" outside of the school board meeting Tuesday night. They were there to support a proposal from school board members Richard Barrera and Marne Foster that would provide free city bus passes for low-income students at some area high schools.

Aired 4/10/13 on KPBS News.

The school board voted Tuesday to help launch a pilot program that will provide free bus passes for low-income students at four area high schools.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten attend the April 9 Board of Education Meeting to discuss a pilot program that would provide free city bus passes for low-income students.

Alfredo Mendez was there to tell the board members how the passes, being called "youth opportunity passes," would benefit him and his family. He's a senior at Hoover High School, one of the campuses participating in the pilot program.

Because he's 18, his family has to scrape together $72 a month to pay for a city bus pass so he can get to class and internships. That's a major expense for his mom, who makes minimum wage. Paying for the $36 youth pass wasn't much easier.

"She would probably have to decide between buying my sister some shoes and buying me a bus pass," Mendez said. "It's really unfortunate that it has to come to that - deciding one thing from the other."

The school board voted unanimously to lift some of that burden.

The school district will pay $150,000 toward 1,000 Metropolitan Transit System passes to be distributed to students at risk of dropping out or failing because they lack transportation. The passes will be available at Hoover, Crawford, Lincoln and San Diego high schools next school year.

The plan is contingent on the city allotting $200,000 for the project. Mayor Bob Filner was on hand at the meeting and said the project will be included in his April 15 preliminary budget.

Barrera said the decision puts the district in a position similar to what Mendez's mom faces each month.

"We're strapped. We're trying to solve a deficit, but when you're strapped and you have to make decisions, you've gotta make some priorities," Barrera said. "So what the school board is saying tonight is, 'It's a priority of ours, even in difficult financial times, to make sure that our kids can get to school and back.'"

The decision comes several years after Barrera learned educators at San Diego High were collecting money from staff, parents and anyone else who would give to cover the cost of transit passes for students who couldn't buy their own. Barrera said about 70 percent of students at San Diego High take the trolley or bus to school.

The three other schools participating in the program also already have high numbers of kids using public transit, according to Barrera.

In City Heights, most school bus routes transport students to campuses outside of the neighborhood. Students there have been campaigning for free student bus passes since 2010, even having Barrera, Filner and City Councilwoman Marti Emerald sign pledges saying they would procure the passes.

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Avatar for user 'tdsandiego'

tdsandiego | April 10, 2013 at 10:22 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

My mother who will be 61 in August grew up in City Heights along with her other brothers and sisters. They all attended the surrounding elementary schools as well as Hoover High. They were incredibly poor had one vehicle for the whole family. When they were growing up many of the roads in the poorer parts of City Heights were dirt roads, and as a matter of fact the road where my grandparents house is located was not paved until the 1980's!! For a time the city schools did not offer bus services for the poorer parts of city heights and therefore some of my mother's siblings had to walk. Walk in the mud, rain, whatever, they walked. Sorry but these kids can walk. I just don't think it's anyones responsibility to pay for someone else's child to get around the city for school, work, internships or whatever. When I was in high school I had a paid internship at The Scripps Research Institute. It took me nearly 4 hours everyday by bus and trolley to get there and back. My parents did not ask the city or tax payers to pay for my transportation up to La Jolla. I payed for it myself with my weekend job I had at a restaurant and sometimes my parents paid for it too. If these kids can't afford to get to their schools, jobs, internships, well its just up to their families to find a way, because my family did. Sorry but these parents need to take complete financial responsibility for their own children. There is absolutely nothing free in this world.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | April 10, 2013 at 11:35 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

"She would probably have to decide between buying my sister some shoes and buying me a bus pass," Mendez said.


So your sister wears $72 shoes? Looks like your problem is spending, not income, and that is the crux of the matter.

I am appalled that SDUSD or the city would spend anything on this wasteful program. Citizens, recall this moment the next time SDUSD demands more taxes.

Tdsandiego, well said! They can walk... in their stylish $72 shoes.

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