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May 19, 2014  |   Comments (12)   |   Post a comment

The trouble with cutting bus service

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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Thomas McMahon is executive editor of SCHOOL BUS FLEET.

Thomas McMahon is executive editor of SCHOOL BUS FLEET.

In Etiwanda, Calif., cutting school bus service caused what one parent described as “chaotic traffic conditions” around two schools, Etiwanda Colony Elementary and Summit Intermediate.

The Etiwanda School District discontinued regular-education bus service in the 2010-11 school year because of budgetary issues.

On Dec. 4 of last year, 9-year-old Ashlyn Gardner and her 7-year-old brother Landon were crossing a street near Etiwanda Colony Elementary when they were struck by a pickup truck. Ashlyn was killed.

After the accident, local parents started two online petitions calling for the return of school bus service.

“Taking away the buses has resulted in chaotic traffic conditions daily at Colony and Summit schools,” Tressy Capps’ petition at MoveOn.org says. “Our kids’ safety must come first!”

As of late March, a combined total of more than 1,300 people had signed the petitions.

Traffic, safety issues
In my editorial from our April/May issue, I discussed the notion that districts have a responsibility to be “in the transportation business,” which some disagree with. Here, I want to draw attention to issues that arise when districts decide to cut school bus service.

As shown in the Etiwanda example, increased traffic around schools is one of the key problems. In situations like this, long lines of vehicles often build up in the morning and afternoon. Students who walk or bike from home — and students whose parents drop them off a distance from the school — have to navigate more traffic, and therefore more risk.

Cutting bus service also deprives students of the safest way to get to school. As federal statistics show, even riding with a parent is not as safe as the yellow bus.

Another problem with cutting school bus service: Parents will fight it. That became clear in Etiwanda. Another example was at Hoover (Ala.) City Schools, where the board decided last summer to stop regular-ed transportation with the 2014-15 school year. However, many parents, students and other community members fervently protested, and the board later rescinded its decision to cut bus service.

Bring back the buses
At Etiwanda School District, about a month after the accident that killed Ashlyn Gardner and spurred the parent petitions, the board decided to bring regular-ed transportation back — to an extent. The board opted to implement a pilot transportation program for students who live at least 3 miles from their elementary or middle school of residence.

In the program, parents pay $40 per month per student, with the district contributing the remaining cost. (Special-ed transportation service is still provided free of charge.)

The pilot program was scheduled to run from March 25 to May 22. Etiwanda Superintendent Shawn Judson said in a letter to parents that the initiative offers “several positive outcomes” for the district.

“It allows the district to use excess seats for regular-education students on some current special-education bus routes and to recover revenue for those seats,” Judson said. “The program also has the potential to reduce congestion around these schools.”

At the end of this school year, the board of trustees will evaluate the feasibility of continuing the program in 2014-15.

The pilot program idea didn’t appear to appease some parents, but perhaps everyone can agree that limited bus service is better than no bus service.


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Everything you say is true but where will the money come from will classes be cut. Teachers will be let go and then what will the parents say? Something has to give you just can't say have something without saying where the revenue is coming from. Transportation is very expensive and some States and Districts just can't afford to continue with rising cost. Be very careful when you say what is needed and what is not. I am in the Transportation end of the school District and have been for 40 years.

Richard Beechum    |    May 19, 2014 02:52 PM

First of all, Schools are in the business of educating. If transportation is required, it should be provided by tax paying, private entities through the contract process. District owned and operated fleets are heavy in NON-essential employees at ALL levels, and have very little to NO regard for safety, in some cases. Please NOTE, I said in SOME cases. Secondly, one side I have NOT heard from, is, even when student transportation is provided, parents are complete IDIOTS within the School Zones. Parents are in so much of a hurry they COMPLETELY disregard the average motor vehicle laws, and most importantly, ALL COMMON SENSE goes right out the window because they are in a hurry to carry on with their lives with reckless abandon to all those in their current environment (SCHOOL ZONE). In many cases, School Buses have to literally FIGHT for a SAFE location to discharge their precious cargo as the CAR WARS ensue within the School Zone. I strongly believe before parents complain about the loss of District owned and provided School Transport services, they reflect upon their own individual behavior within the School Zones before demanding a service such as this. As I indicated earlier, MOST parents act like untamed IDIOTS within the School Zone. Just my profession opinion from my professional experiences.

rj    |    May 19, 2014 03:05 PM

If Teachers Unions wouldn't be so damn greedy there'd be plenty of money for Transportation. In a town close to me, Salary/Pension/Benefits take up EIGHTY EIGHT percent of the budget....seriously? Make them pay for healthcare and Pensions like regular people do and you'd have a LOT more money FOR THE KIDS.

Steven Manson    |    May 19, 2014 03:08 PM

It just goes to show that no matter what the issue, it always gets down to money in the end. Eliminating bus service is environmentally irresponsible and a huge compromise to the safe transportation of school kids anywhere. I'm sure if school districts put their thinking caps on, they can figure out other ways to save money. State or federal aid to school districts having trouble financing transportation should be available. Mass transit should always be a top priority all of government at all levels. Too bad it isn't.

G. Bridgman    |    May 19, 2014 04:08 PM

Parents don't get it that the school bus is the safest way to school and back home !!!!!!!

captain john    |    May 19, 2014 04:46 PM

It is a tragedy that a little one lost her life to show a board how important safely transporting kids is. I feel for her brother too,school will always be associated with the accident. I have no easy answers,but common sense has to be at the top of all school functions. " Does what we are doing make sense?" should be a self check for all departments every day. Honestly stop and ask the question. One thing our school does is have the state police patrol the street in front of the school. So many people ,parents included ignore the 20 mph speed limit and are met with a citation. Both parties are benefitted, and the speeders learn a lesson about school zones (the hospital does it too).

steve carlson    |    May 20, 2014 03:57 AM

It is a tragedy that a little one lost her life to show a board how important safely transporting kids is. I feel for her brother too,school will always be associated with the accident. I have no easy answers,but common sense has to be at the top of all school functions. " Does what we are doing make sense?" should be a self check for all departments every day. Honestly stop and ask the question. One thing our school does is have the state police patrol the street in front of the school. So many people ,parents included ignore the 20 mph speed limit and are met with a citation. Both parties are benefitted, and the speeders learn a lesson about school zones (the hospital does it too).

steve carlson    |    May 20, 2014 03:57 AM

I agree that transporting students to and from school is important, but when school have to continuely cut budgets and staff across the board everyone loses. In our State of Illinois, Governor Quinn is on record as saying this "it is the parents responiblity to get their children to school". We have seen our transportation funding cut 50% that year 2011 and another 25% the next year. Schools in Illinois have seen cuts in all funding or lack of payments by the State. It is a shame. As the Governor of Iowa said last night on the news Governor Quinn has no business telling other states how to do things when they can't do them in his own State!

Doug    |    May 20, 2014 04:10 AM

The pilot bus program has been a great first step in easing our EXTREME traffic congestion. The parents want to continue with it and expand the program. The board voted prematurely to end the program. There is a special meeting to address that tomorrow night May 21st at 4pm http://www.etiwanda.k12.ca.us/district/board/A05-21-2014.pdf Holding a meeting at 4pm with graduations and working parents will prevent some from participating. www.bringbackbus.com

Tressy Capps    |    May 20, 2014 07:06 AM

The board pulled the plug early on our pilot bus program. They voted to end it May 1st? That is what parents are upset about. We love the pilot bus program and want it to expand. Traffic has improved. The district is supposed to engage parents under the new LCFF law in California and seek their input on budget. This falls under "school climate" category ie safety. Judson and the board need to listen. Maybe the board can cut their medical benefits so our kids can ride the bus. They recently spent $242k on one bathroom expansion for adults and laughed about the expense. Pilot bus by their own projections would cost $245k. What is going on? Plenty of money for construction projects. No money for our kids safety concerns. We want and need busing for our kids www.bringbackbus.com

Tressy Capps    |    May 20, 2014 07:14 AM

ONE CAN ALWAYS FIND THE ACCIDENT TO JUSTIFY MORE SPENDING. PARENTS SHOULD BE FIRST RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN-NOT THE GOVERNMENT/TAXPAYER! STEVE MANSON AND RJ HAVE IT RIGHT. THX AL

AL    |    May 21, 2014 05:03 AM

I do have to agree with the fact that the parents do act irresponsibly in the loading and unloading zones. But let one bus driver do something irresponsible and all hell brakes loose. It's about time the media starts looking at what is going on in and around the schools. And telling the truth without blowing things out of proportion.

Pete    |    May 21, 2014 10:32 AM

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