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Schools to bus fewer students

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It is unclear at present exactly how many students the Yellow Springs schools’ new transportation policy affects, but it appears that most of the students who reside within the school district are currently ineligible to ride the bus. Yellow Springs school board addressed the changes to the district’s transportation schedule at its most recent Committee of the Whole meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 5, before approximately 25 parents and community members.

As a budget cutting measure, the school board voted this spring to discontinue the bus routes for elementary students who reside within .75 miles of Mills Lawn and secondary students who live within 1.5 miles of Yellow Springs High School.

At the meeting, school officials presented a large map that identified the majority area of the village that will no longer receive busing services. At the time of the meeting, no plans had been made by the district to increase crossing guard services or to facilitate the car, bicycle and foot traffic that is likely to increase this school year, as those accustomed to taking the bus find another way to school.

“We’re doing the best we can with this,” Assistant to the Superintendent Susan Griffith said. “The village is like anyplace else. We’re trying to be more environmentally sound and we’ve got to look at our budget, and this is just the beginning. This is one of the steps we have to take.”

Ultimately, she said, parents are responsible for getting their kids to school safely.

Several parents questioned how the busing policy has been applied to their particular circumstances. These parents were encouraged to contact the transportation office directly. While it is unclear how exceptions will be handled, some students may be able to catch a ride on a bus route serving a nearby student.

The transportation policy being implemented, Operations #8600, is available on the district’s Web site. While board members adopted the busing regulations in 1997, this is the first year the transportation department is directed to enforce them. According to board members and officials, the policy is being enforced because of the savings the district will realize by having only one bus en route on a daily basis.

“We have been very fortunate to be able to accommodate our whole village for a lot of years,” Griffith said. “But times are different now. As much as we would love to do what we were doing, we can’t do it anymore.”

Local resident Dan Carrigan is helping Assistant Village Planner Ed Amrhein to plan a Safe Routes to School initiative, a national program that matches local funds to provide safe transportation for school children. Amrhein made a presentation on the Safe Routes program at Wednesday’s board meeting, which the board will address at a later time. According to Griffith, an average of 28 percent of the district’s total 711 students take the bus to school. The school used two buses to complete four routes, two for Mills Lawn students and two for high school and middle school students.

The district has not yet specified how many of those students will not be bused this year. In June the school sent forms home to families within the district which were to be returned to determine their child’s busing eligibility status. Many families have already been denied, but the school could not say how many students will ultimately be allowed to ride the bus.

The policy is based on mileage that is figured “as the crow flies” — which means that, for some students, the actual route to school is further than the policy stipulates.

The policy allows for students who board at sites that are considered dangerous, as well as those who are handicapped and unable to walk, to be bused regardless of location. Those who attend the Greene County Career Center and those who are assigned to special education classes outside the district will also continue to receive transportation. The map is available for viewing at the district’s transportation office.

“When it was decided that we would strictly adhere to the policy regulations on busing, we purchased large district maps and drew a radius” around the schools, Griffith said. “If you fall inside the circle, you are not eligible for transportation. If you fall outside of the circle, you do qualify for transportation,” Griffith said.

The board intended for the transition into this new transportation system to be as smooth as possible, according to Merhemic in a phone interview early this week. With the change in transportation procedures coinciding with the departure of former Superintendent Norm Glismann, some things have been left undone, though she noted that the transportation staff and Griffith have worked hard to implement the policy.

“We’re in a transition, and I think Tony is going to hit the ground running,” Merhemic said, referring to veteran Superintendent Tony Armocida’s return as interim superintendent this week.

The unknown in the situation is how the exceptions to the policy will be handled. If a student is closer to a nearby bus stop than to their assigned school, according to Griffith, that student can board the bus.

“If there is a stop near your home and it’s a block away — you know where it is — and you want your student to ride the bus, of course they can do that,” Griffith said. “We’re not going to be that stringent.”

One parent at the meeting questioned whether overcrowding would be an issue at a mass bus stop, and if there is a possibility that students could be denied a bus ride after waiting at a stop to board.

To clarify, Griffith said that parents should not send their kids to a bus stop without being in contact with the transportation office, noting that students are required to have a pink transportation form on file with the district before riding a bus.

“If you have issues, if you have concerns, or if you have a special situation we don’t know about,” Griffith said to the audience, “you should be in touch with the board office.”

Parents who have not turned in the transportation forms that were mailed to their homes were urged to do so as soon as possible to ensure that arrangements are made before the start of the school year. The transportation policy stipulates that bus routes must be finalized no later than the 10th day of the beginning of the term.

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