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 However, many parents, students and other community members fervently protested, and the board later rescinded its decision to cut bus service.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.