The initial pickup point for children riding buses had been the high school.
AUSTINTOWN -- The Austintown school board approved an agreement that will allow it to begin a controversial change in busing for parochial elementary school pupils.
At its meeting Tuesday, the board approved a legal agreement with the Diocese of Youngstown over liability and insurance for making St. Joseph School on New Road a pickup point for pupils who will be bused to three other schools.
Superintendent Douglas Heuer said that under state law, the district must provide busing for pupils who live in Austintown but who attend the parochial or private schools. Those schools are St. Christine and Youngstown Christian in Youngstown and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Austintown.
Heuer said the pupils could live anywhere in the Austintown district, and under the old system, buses picked students up in their neighborhoods and took them to each school.
Now, he said, buses will drop the pupils at St. Joseph School, where they will board buses to go to the other schools.
He said that by using less buses for parochial pupils and also by eliminating four buses for high school students, the district will save $260,000 a year. He said the buses that are picking up high school students now will lengthen their routes to make up for the loss.
When parents found out about the parochial busing plan in June, many weren't happy.
The district first intended to make Austintown Fitch High School a dropoff point for parochial pupils, and parents worried about their children riding buses with high schoolers.
Pam Jadue, who has three children attending St. Joseph, said that concerned her at first. During a phone interview, she said there also seemed to be no set plan for helping pupils with the transfer to their other buses, and that the school district did not notify parents of the change -- it merely sent letters to principals of each parochial school. She said the schools got the letters in June.
Jadue said nearly 300 parents of children attending the schools met with the district to push for better supervision during the bus transfers, and the district eventually changed the dropoff point from Fitch to St. Joseph.
She said she is not happy with the way the plan was handled, and that parents should have had better notification, but she is now satisfied that children will be safe on the buses.
"Most of our parents are satisfied, but some are still not happy," she said.
One parent at the meeting, Debbie Woodford, spoke out against the plan.
Woodford said the plan will double or triple the amount of time children are on buses. She also said the district would not answer questions from parents who were concerned about their childrens' safety.
"Your words no longer have credibility with me," she told board members.