The latest on Natick Public Schools’ METCO program:
METCO program update & transportation expansion
Natick METCO Director Rasheedah Clayton shared an update on the program at the Dec. 4 School Committee meeting, which led into the Committee revisiting the topic of proposed transportation changes and funding discussed at length at the Nov. 20 School Committee meeting.
At the start of this year, Natick’s School Committee voted to expand METCO into the elementary school level, starting at Ben-Hem, and with that expansion has come the need for additional resources and planning to serve the current 50-plus students. As the state’s METCO program evolves, so do the metrics used to gauge its success.
As Clayton detailed, METCO has hired a consultant to survey and help evaluate Natick and other districts in areas such as students’ sense of belonging and recruitment/retainment of diverse staff.
She segued from discussion of the program in general to the request for a second METCO school bus. Currently, the school uses 1 bus for high school and middle school students, and a van for elementary school kids. Having separate middle school and high school buses would allow the younger students to get up a bit later (some middle school students need to board the bus now as early as 5:55am), and stay later for after-school activities ranging from sports to drama to Dungeons & Dragons. She pointed to the fact that Natick was able to pay for a second bus during the COVID-19 pandemic, so can certainly do it again. The goal would be to have 2 buses for the next school calendar year, and ditch the van.
The School Committee was being asked to approve spending an additional $86,600 to accommodate a second bus, with hopes that the state’s supplemental budget (passed the same night as the School Committee meeting) would cover all or part of the cost. Determining transportation costs is a mind melting calculation based on the timing of grants, the details of bus contracts, and “elusive” numbers, as one School Committee member put it. Clayton explained that bus accommodations have evolved during her 10-year tenure, with changes in the number of days late buses were available to METCO students, and a time when all METCO students needed to stay late regardless of whether they were involved in after-school activities.
School Committee member Matt Brand said he was previously unsure why they would fund a bus for just the second half of the school year when the school system is already providing a transportation service. But upon hearing the METCO program update, he said it became clearer that the reason to add a bus was that “this is the cost of the commitment that we made” to expand the METCO program and to provide equitable services for all students. His thoughts were echoed by other members.
School Committee member Julie McDonough, who like the rest of the body emphasized her support for the METCO program, toward the end of the meeting expressed frustration and confusion over why the group was having a budget discussion at this time of year after having already focused on the general budget much earlier. She proposed that during the next budget cycle that the Committee discuss transportation in a broader way that includes METCO.
The main motion to approve a second bus failed to pass after an an alternative motion to expand the current late bus from 3 days to 4 for the remainder of the 2023-24 school year—at a cost of up to $15,000—was put forward by Committee member Elise Gorseth. The alternative motion passed by a 6-1 vote.
Interim Superintendent Bella Wong acknowledged that “that was a difficult conversation,” but praised the School Committee for its efforts to expand METCO this year to include kindergarten, and next year beyond that.
Natick represents at METCO event
Chris Cardoso, Natick High School METCO coordinator and a program alumnus, provides families with useful information at the METCO Showcase in Roxbury on Nov. 18. The annual event brings METCO representatives together to encourage Boston students to apply to METCO for a chance to be referred via lottery to their preferred choice of suburban schools.
Since its founding in 1966, the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) has enrolled tens of thousands of Boston students in predominantly white school districts, creating the opportunity for students in those districts to learn in a racially and ethnically diverse setting.