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Principals Worry Transit-Fee Rise Hurts Attendance

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Some high-school principals in Philadelphia are concerned that attendance has been hurt this year by the higher fares students must pay to ride public transportation to school.

During this school year, the cost to students for 10 tokens for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, known as septa, has jumped from $5.50 to $8.50. The change is due to an increase in fares by septa and a reduction in the student subsidy paid by the school district.

"I think [the drop in attendance] is happening," said Louis DeVicaris, principal of Martin Luther King High School. "[The price hike] does affect the enrollment of students. It's very, very discouraging."

Mr. DeVicaris, who said he did not have recent figures to support his impressions, noted that his school suffered a decline in attendance three years ago after moving back into its original building, which had been closed for asbestos removal for three years.

During the time that students attended a neighboring middle school that was reopened to accommodate them, Mr. DeVicaris said, the school distributed free transit tokens. Attendance during that time increased by 11 percent, he said, but fell again when the high-school building was reopened and the special subsidy was discontinued.

"It's a big factor in the attendance of students, especially if you have more than one child who needs the tokens," he said.

Subsidy Paid

The Philadelphia school district currently pays a 15-cent subsidy for students, half the 30 cents the district paid before last September.

The fare for a septa token also increased last year from 85 cents to $1. The combined changes mean students have to pay 30 cents more per token, or $3 more per week for 10 tokens to go back and forth to school.

Septa is considering raising its fares again, to $2.25 for two tokens, according to a spokeswoman. However, that proposal has been temporarily tabled in favor of further study.

Mark L. Spector, assistant managing director of the Philadelphia school system, said daily token sales at schools declined by 10 percent between September and February over the previous year's sales.

However, the district has no data that would link the decline to any increase in student absences, Mr. Spector said.

"I cannot deny that it may have some impact on attendance," Mr. Spector said, "but I have nothing that would document that."

The district provides bus service for students in grades 1-6 who live more than 1 miles from school. Students who receive special education also are bused.

Children participating in the district's voluntary desegregation plan are either bused or, in the higher grades, given free tokens, whichever is more economical.

The district expects to spend $1.5 million next year to subsidize students' fares and another $1.7 million to provide students with free transfers, Mr. Spector said.

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