Officials revise plan for busing
No elementary pupils would be bused with high school students under the latest plan.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- A revised transportation plan for parochial school pupils means a projected savings of more than $260,000 this school year.
But the concerns of many parents remain.
The latest plan involves busing all nonpublic school pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade together to St. Joseph School where they would be placed on buses going to Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Christine School, Youngstown Christian Academy and other community schools. Those attending St. Joseph would remain there.
Superintendent Douglas Heuer said the district must get approval from the Youngstown Diocese to use the St. Joseph property for the transfers.
The district reports the number of pupils changing buses at St. Joe's at 118 and three monitors will be on duty in both the morning and afternoon to help children. Buses and pupils would be color-coded.
High school students from public and nonpublic schools will ride the bus together in the morning. The nonpublic school students will be bused to Fitch High School in the morning and then to the respective schools. In the afternoon, they will go to either Austintown of Frank Ohl Middle School in the afternoon before being bused home.
The plan was announced at a meeting with parents Wednesday at Watson Elementary, with about 200 people attending.
The plan, however, also was discussed in an executive session at a school board meeting Wednesday morning.
The board recessed into executive session for several minutes citing personnel as the topic. Under Ohio's open meetings act, executive sessions are permitted for discussion of personnel matters.
Heuer declined to say what specifically was discussed in executive session.
But Michael Creatore, one board member, said the transportation of nonpublic school students was discussed among board members during that executive session.
"I objected to that because I didn't believe it was an item that can be discussed in executive session and I still object to it," he said.
While Heuer wouldn't talk about the session, he said that in general, anything having to do with bus routes affects bus drivers which is a personnel issue.
The latest version of the transportation plan eliminates busing of public high school students with nonpublic elementary children, which many parents had concerns about. It includes the elimination of four public and four nonpublic school assigned buses.
One parent, who was a member of the parent committee that worked on the plan and whose children attend St. Joseph, thanked Colleen Bagnoli, transportation coordinator, for her work on the plan. Those comments received some applause, but other worries remain.
Sandy Hintz, whose son is a third-grader at Immaculate Heart, believes the plan leaves many issues unclear.
What will happen, for example, if a bus breaks down, she wonders.
Hintz also agreed with another woman who said she favored consolidating routes to eliminate those when only a few children are on the bus.
"I just think they're trying to rush something that's not been completely thought through," she said.
Mary Ellen Shiller, whose two children are in third and seventh grade at St. Joseph's, favors a geographical approach.
That's what John Rozzo, St. Joseph's principal, suggested.
If the school district can be divided geographically to determine which pupils attend Frank Ohl and which attend AMS, a similar approach could be implemented for parochial students, Rozzo reasoned.
The school district sought changes as a way to cut costs. The district spends $274.44 per public school pupil in transportation costs compared to $862.93 per nonpublic school pupil and $991.71 per pupil attending community school.
That's because of the those attending the parochial schools come from all over the district compared to public school pupils, who attend a particular school based on where they live.
The state subsidy for transportation per pupil is the same, however, whether they attend a public or private school.
With the hiring of monitors to assist with guiding pupils to their respective buses, the district will save $260,932 annually, according to district projections.
"That's about equal to one-half of a mill of property tax," Heuer said.