Austintown parents voice concerns about busing

A meeting to review the final plan will be held July 27 at Watson Elementary.
AUSTINTOWN -- More than 200 parents met with Austintown school administrators Wednesday night at Watson Elementary School to discuss concerns about the district's proposed transportation plan.
Superintendent Douglas Heuer and Transportation Supervisor Colleen Bagnoli explained the plan, a draft copy of which was provided to people who attended the meeting.
According to the plan, pupils from area parochial and private schools would be picked up at their homes, bused to a central location, such as Fitch High School, and then taken to their schools. The process would be reversed in the afternoons.
But because the starting times of those schools coincide with the transportation schedule for Fitch, elementary children would ride the same buses as high school students.
And parents of those younger children had plenty to say at last night's meeting.
Heuer began the meeting by addressing parents' top concern: the safety of their children.
"There is one thing that I can guarantee you, and that is that your child will be safe," he said.
Heuer cited the district's past safety record, noting that only two children were "unaccounted for" at some point last year.
He said budget issues are forcing the district to make cuts, and the plan would save more than $250,000 in transportation costs.
Though the state reimburses schools equally for public and private school students, Austintown spends $274.44 in transportation costs for public school students while spending $862.93 for those at private schools.
To work out more details in the draft, Heuer opened the floor for public comment. And parents had many opinions.
Voice of parents
Heather Kruk, whose two children attend Immaculate Heart of Mary School, held a yellow poster with pictures of her children that read "Can you guarantee our safety?"
Kruk said she worries that her children won't be safe on the bus or during transfers.
Connie Pierce, whose 6- and 9-year-olds attend IHM, said she was disappointed that parents received only one option and had no input into the creation of the draft.
Pierce objected to putting younger children on buses with high school students, saying it was the same principle as the one-room school house.
The difference in age also concerned Valerie Patterson, whose daughter attends St. Joseph's School.
"Safety is always more important than money, especially if it's your child," Patterson said.
Pierce and Patterson were among many parents who said they would drive their children to school if the current plan went into effect.
More opinions
But parents weren't the only people with something to say.
Patterson's 8-year-old daughter, Victoria, said she attended the meeting with her parents because she worries about the confusion of switching buses and the experience she might have if she had to ride with high school students.
"I just don't want anyone to be hurt by them or bullied," she said.
To address the concerns of all involved, Heuer gave parents a questionnaire to return to administrators. He also told them they could elect several representatives to meet with administrators before the final plan is set.
Heuer said the amended plan would be available July 20, and a meeting to review the final plan will be held July 27 at Watson Elementary.

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