School rallies for yellow buses

The mood was tense, but the music was beautiful.

Officials at GAMP — Girard Academic Music Program, the city’s elite, public magnet for gifted musicians — have been notified they will lose the yellow school buses that transport its middle school students from points around Philadelphia to the school at 22nd and Ritner.

So on Thursday night, dozens gathered in the GAMP auditorium for a concert and rally to voice their displeasure to the Philadelphia School District.

The message, set to acts as diverse as a cellist playing Tchaikovsky and a middle school jazz combo rocking Stevie Wonder, was clear: “Save Our School, Save Our Buses!”

Parents, students and Jack Carr, a GAMP founder and school principal, fear that eliminating busing would create a dangerous situation for students. Many, they say, would have to leave GAMP.

“Imagine a 9-year-old child on a SEPTA bus, carrying a $20,000 bassoon,” said Carr. “That’s a real safety problem.”

Some parents have already indicated that because they can’t drive their children to school every day and don’t feel comfortable with middle schoolers on long SEPTA rides, they will have to pull their children out of GAMP, Carr said.

“It would eliminate GAMP as an option for some families,” he said. “We would lose some of our diversity.”

The 500-student school, which educates fifth through 12th graders, is about 50 percent white, 28 percent African American, 15 percent Asian and 4 percent Latino.

Yes, the district’s financial problems are severe, organizers acknowledged. (The School Reform Commission this week floated $300 million in bonds just to keep schools open for the rest of the year, and there is more pain ahead.)

But parents said cutting yellow school buses for 173 middle schoolers isn’t the way to make ends meet.

Every day, fifth grader Micah Way gets on the yellow bus with his heavy bookbag and his trumpet. He takes a long ride from Northern Liberties to GAMP.

If he had to take SEPTA, that would be at least a three-bus ride, said Gwen DeVeaux-Way, his grandmother.

“It would be terrible,” DeVeaux-Way said. “He’s a short little guy.”

GAMP had retained its yellow school buses because of a decades-long court battle over desegregating Philadelphia schools, but that case was settled in 2009. Some desegregation routes stayed, but others have been eliminated.
District officials have said they could save as much as $1 million by ending all desegregation busing.

The GAMP community took their case to a School Reform Commission meeting last month, and vowed Thursday night to keep up their campaign until officials found a way to pay for their school buses.