Central Area Rural Transit System is extending its deadline to find funding for its free kindergarten transport program before permanently discontinuing the service.
CARTS had planned to end the service March 1 if it could not come up with $10,500 in community funds to support the extra service. With less than 30 percent to go, however, the organization has decided to cease kindergarten transport this week, but hold off on a permanent decision until Friday.
"It's a crying need in the community," said CARTS Executive Director Kristin Lambert. "A couple of board members are having a real heartache over ending this program."
Lambert explained that the need stems from the fact that the school district does not provide transportation for half-day students.
Each school chooses whether to offer full-day kindergarten three days per week or half-day classes five days per week. Because many people believe young children should not be in class all day, several area elementary schools choose half-day kindergarten.
The problem is that the schools are only given money to run buses once in the morning and once in the afternoon, leaving many families without a way to pick up or drop off their children at midday.
In response, CARTS has been shuttling about 40 half-day kindergarten students to and from school each day for free.
"We've set up a whole special program for them so they can ride together and have the same driver," Lambert said.
Last year, the program was funded by a grant, but this year the organization has had trouble finding local financial support for the service.
CARTS is a transportation brokerage primarily designed to take people to and from work.
"That's the goal of the majority of our federal funding," Lambert said. "This whole concept of (kindergarten) transport doesn't really fit."
Still, she said, CARTS is hesitant to end a service that so many families need.
"Lots of parents have trouble getting their kids to school," she said. "It's an important program."
Last month, CARTS announced that it needed $21,000 to continue the free program for the remainder of the school year. Because the company is eligible for federal matching funds, it only needed half the amount to come from the community.
"It's important for the community to step up to the plate and help us continue this program," said Jennifer Beckmann, CARTS executive assistant and coordinator of the kindergarten transport program. "It's obviously needed. Kids need to be in school."
Unocal has stepped forward with $2,500, and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Henry Krull offered $5,000. A church pledged $200, leaving only $2,800 to go.
"The support has been overwhelming," Lambert said.
She added that in addition to money, CARTS has also received stacks of letters in support of the program.
"Whether we get the funding by Friday or not, I'm very impressed with the willingness to help once people are aware of the problem," she said.
CARTS, a nonprofit organization formed by concerned citizens and social service agencies to help central peninsula people with transportation problems, began operation in October 2000. The organization coordinates door-to-door rides with vans, taxis and volunteer drivers.
As of February, CARTS service is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with after-hour service remaining for people traveling to and from jobs. Rides must be scheduled 24 hours in advance.
The organization is currently providing about 4,000 rides per month and continues to grow steadily.
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