St. Maria Goretti Catholic School is suing the Madison School District over its refusal to provide and pay for busing for students to the private Catholic school unless it changes its school day schedule by more than an hour.
In its lawsuit, filed Friday in Dane County Circuit Court, the school on the city’s Southwest Side alleges the district is in violation of a state law requiring public school districts to provide transportation for eligible private school students with “reasonable uniformity” with their public school counterparts.
The district has been busing St. Maria Goretti students since at least 1983, according to the lawsuit, but the arrangement is being affected by the district’s ongoing plans to shift its own middle school start times to later in the morning, which in turn changes bus schedules and would mean St. Maria Goretti students arrive 70 minutes later than normal.
“The District is forcing St. Maria Goretti to substantially change its start and end times to receive busing, devastating almost every aspect of the school,” the lawsuit says.
District spokesman Tim LeMonds said Monday the district was not aware of the lawsuit “until very recently” and hasn’t had enough time to review it and offer comment.
According to the lawsuit:
St. Maria Goretti Catholic School, 5405 Flad Ave., enrolls about 400 students in grades K-8.
Of those students, 176 are eligible based on where they live to ride one of the four bus routes the Madison School District provides for the school, and approximately 135 students regularly ride the bus.
In October 2018, Madison school officials told the heads of four Catholic schools in the Madison Diocese their bus schedules through the district would need to be changed in the 2020-21 school year.
The change was prompted by a three-year effort launched by the district this year to switch all of its middle school start times to 8:40 a.m.
In order to keep the four St. Maria Goretti bus routes compatible with transporting public school students, the district told St. Maria Goretti its students would not get to school until 8:50 a.m., 70 minutes after the current 7:40 a.m. start time.
The lawsuit claims the 70-minute shift would have a “devastating” effect on St. Maria Goretti’s operations and Catholic mission, including not being able to hold an 8 a.m. Mass three days a week for students, family members and other parishioners.
A change in the school day would also push the final bell from 2:40 p.m. to 3:50 p.m., which could affect after-school religion classes for non-St. Maria Goretti students and limit the time the private school students have to go home for dinner and to do homework before returning for evening youth ministry programs.
In February, the district sent St. Maria Goretti a proposed memorandum of agreement — if it wanted to keep the current school day schedule — that would require the private school to reimburse the district for transportation, the lawsuit says, which could be at least $106,980 per year.
The school would be willing to change its schedule by 15 minutes, reduce the number of bus routes or take on the cost of busing for students who are 50% more expensive than the average cost per student, the lawsuit says, but not pay the full cost of transportation or change its school day by more than an hour.
The lawsuit says the uncertainty over transportation next year is already causing harm to its reputation and might prompt parents to reconsider sending their children to the school.
St. Maria Goretti is asking a judge to require the Madison School District provide transportation to drop off eligible students at the school before the current 7:40 a.m. start time and bring them home after the 2:40 p.m. end time, along with having the district pay attorney’s fees.
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