JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. - Two Jefferson County moms are collecting online signatures to get the school district to waive its $150 bus fee.
On Tuesday, voters in Jefferson County approved ballot issue 3A, a $39 million tax increase for the school district.
"I voted yes on 3A, hoping bus fees would be waived," said Nicole Baldizan.
Baldizan is a mother of three kids in the district. She said one takes the bus this year, but next year she'll have to pay for two kids to take the bus.
"I'm going to continue the petition until they budge and make changes to the bus fee," said Baldizan.
Baldizan's online petition reads:
Stop the $150 fee to ride a bus to school. In light of the recent events in Jefferson County we are petitioning to stop the fee Jeffco charges students to take the bus. The fee is a hardship on families and it puts our children at risk from dangerous predators. No grade school child should have to walk to school. The school district should provide transportation for each child to make it to school safely each and every day.
The "recent events" is a reference to Jessica Ridgeway.
The 10-year-old was abducted on Oct. 5 as she walked to meet up with her friends to walk to Witt Elementary School. Her remains were found in an Arvada open space five days later. Westminster Police arrested 17-year-old Austin Sigg on Oct. 23. He was charged as an adult with murder and sex assault on a child.
"Safety. Safety only," said Jefferson County mom Mary Gonzalez about why she also has a petition. "And I felt this way before Jessica."
Gonzalez doesn't have to pay the bus fee. Her teen drives to Standley Lake High School.
The online petition from Gonzalez reads:
Stop charging the $150.00 fee per child to ride the school bus.
Charging the $150.00 fee per child makes it near impossible for most parents to pay therefore putting the lives of children at risk to predators. Most children who rode the bus 2 years ago are now walking to and from school. In the case of Jessica Ridgeway, she chose to not ride the bus because all of her friends would now be walking since Jefferson County imposed a fee for riding. We need to keep the children safe at any cost and the school district should see that. If we can't get the fee waived, the least we can do is give the parents the option to pay it monthly during the school year. As it stands now, the fee is due at school registration. That is a huge burden on a family with just two children on top of school supplies, lunch money and perhaps a new backpack. Please Let's Get Our Kids Back on the School Bus.
"I'm fighting for it because there are too many kids walking. It's a predator's paradise," said Gonzalez.
More than 1,600 people have signed the two petitions, though many are from outside of Jefferson County.
Jefferson County Responds To Bus Fee Petitions
7NEWS asked Jefferson County school board president Lesley Dahlkemper about the prospect of waiving the bus fees after the passage of the $39 million tax increase.
She referenced a list of potential cuts the board already anticipated had 3A failed. Since it passed, the money will be spent saving areas on that list.
"More than 3,000 individuals weighed in, in terms of budget priorities. The school board then held nearly a dozen forums around the community earlier this year, and we said, 'What are your top funding priorities?'" said Dahlkemper.
Those priorities included:
- Instrumental Music
- Two Furlough Days
- Outdoor Lab
"Our credibility is ruined if we don't follow through on those key areas that we promised," said Dahlkemper.
"Do you think the community's priorities have changed as a result of the Jessica Ridgeway case?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.
"I can't say for sure because we haven't had an opportunity to talk with our community," said Dahlkemper.
Jefferson County started its bus fees in 2010. The transportation budget had to be cut by $1 million.
Among the options were:
- Cutting bus routes and laying off drivers
- Eliminating bussing
- Charge the $150 fee