By Ann Doss HelmsCharlotte Observer
As thousands of Charlotte-Mecklenburg magnet families figure out how to cope with the loss of neighborhood bus service in August, parents at Northwest School of the Arts think they've found an answer: Paying for an online carpool-coordination service.
When the school board voted to cut busing, district officials suggested families could carpool their kids to and from the new "shuttle stops" that could be miles from their homes. But when you've got more than 1,000 kids scattered over 545 square miles of Mecklenburg County, lining up connections becomes a gargantuan task.
Carolyn Allison with Northwest's PTSA researched three Web sites that offer carpool coordination.
The group's leaders settled on Carpool To School because it offers the most automation and demands the least work from volunteer coordinators, says PTSA President Ginny Brien.
"It's so automated that when it's your turn to drive, you can get an e-mail reminder," she says.
There's a start-up fee of about $1,000, plus $60 a month, for a cost of just over $1,700 a year. But Brien and her crew think that's worth it to preserve students' access to a specialized school they love.
"If we lose a significant number of students it could kill the program," she says, but adds that Northwest has a strong waiting list to pull from.
Ten other magnets are in a similar situation, and Brien suggests their parent groups look into similar options. She suggests checking the Carpool To School link for details; if there are still questions, you can get her e-mail from the Northwest PTSA site.
Meanwhile, CMS has asked parents to notify them by July 22 if they need to withdraw students from any of the magnets because of transportation problems. It's not a rock-hard deadline; students can return to their neighborhood school at any time. But that should give some gauge of how hard the busing changes are hitting families and schools.