Concord schools welcome homeless children – but need transportation funds

By Kelly Walters Correspondent
April 7, 2023

As families settle into the emergency shelter at the Best Western Hotel and newly enrolled students complete their first few weeks in the Concord Public Schools and Concord Carlisle Regional High School, school administrators are coordinating with local organizations, hiring and reallocating staff and faculty and awaiting lawmakers’ word on how and when funds from the state will be distributed to support mounting transportation costs. 

The first families arrived at the hotel on March 13, at which point the school district became responsible for either enrolling school-aged students locally or transporting them to their home districts. So far, 25 families are being serviced with eight students enrolled in Concord schools and CCHS, Superintendent Laurie Hunter said. Another 20 students are being transported to their home districts in Boston, Chelsea, Walpole, Malden and Worcester.

Hunter updated the Joint School Committee on these efforts at a March 28 meeting. 

“It’s going really well,” she said, “I feel really good about the ways we’re able to service the kids.” 

School administrators are coordinating with Making Opportunities Count, the service provider onsite at the hotel, when new families arrive, she said. The town’s social worker and Concord Carlisle Community Chest are supporting “incidental items that arise when we notify them of a need.” 

Administrators hired a full-time family coordinator who speaks Spanish to assist students and their families in late March, Hunter said. She identified the need for more communication support, as many students speak primary languages other than English. 

“We’re re-allocating [English language teachers] between buildings and trying to just see how far our resources will go,” she said,

Hunter anticipates state aid will cover the growing cost of transporting students to their home districts, but expressed some concern over the timing of that future aid. 

“At the hotel on a daily basis we have three buses going to elementary, middle and high school, and then there are 10 vans going to the hotel to pick up kids to take to [their] school of origin,” she said.

Concord’s share of the transportation costs, which they split with the home districts, ranges from $50-$300 per day.

“The supplemental budget proposed by the governor with about $41 million in homeless shelter support – some of which would be to the schools – passed the senate last week. It’s on the governor’s desk waiting signature. So the next phase is for the governor’s office to determine how this will all be allocated … But if it’s not timely it will be just as catastrophic so [we’re] trying to explain it needs to be timely and efficient and not a Circuit Breaker model where we’re getting it a year later. There’s a lot of great listening going on, we just need it to happen,” she said.