Many parents express concerns over busing plan

The superintendent said having those in high school and elementary school ride together will cut costs.
AUSTINTOWN -- Parents of elementary parochial school pupils worry about their young children's safety while riding the school bus with Fitch High School students.
More than 30 concerned parents gathered Wednesday morning outside of the board of education offices, looking for answers about a proposed transportation plan.
Superintendent Douglas Heuer said the district is looking at every aspect of its budget to improve efficiency. That includes transportation.
The school board conducted a special meeting Wednesday but didn't talk about the bus plan, which calls for picking up parochial and private school children living in the district and busing them to Fitch. From there, they will be bused to their respective schools.
At the end of the day, the private school pupils will be picked up at their respective schools, taken to Fitch and then bused home.
With the start times of the elementary children who attend parochial schools within the district, that means they'll ride the bus with Fitch students and that worries some parents.
Mother's worries
Stacie Butler has a daughter in third grade at St. Joseph School and another child who will attend kindergarten in the 2006-07 school year.
Butler is concerned about safety, like the possibility of fights between older students, as well as what her children will hear spending time around high school students.
"Some people think it's an issue of parochial vs. public students," she said. "It's not. It's an issue of a 5-year-old vs. an 18-year-old."
An earlier pickup time also troubles her.
"My daughter already gets on the bus at five minutes to 7 in the morning," Butler said. "I can't imagine what time she's going to have to get on that bus with the changes."
Heuer, who met and spoke with the group of parents for several minutes, said the district is reimbursed for transportation by the state at the same rate for private and public school students.
But when economies of scale, like the bus driver's time and fuel costs are figured in, the district spends about three times as much per private school pupil as public school pupil for transportation, he said.
"We're trying to equalize those costs," Heuer said.
Omar Jadue's 10-year-old twins and 6-year-old child attend St. Joseph School.
"We're concerned about discipline, safety and timing," he said.
Jadue said he attended a school board meeting earlier this month and asked about the transportation plan. At that time, he said, board members told him it would be discussed at a future meeting.
But more talk and uneasiness among parents circulated.
When Jadue learned of Wednesday's special meeting, he and other parents decided to attend to find out if the topic would be discussed.
Daughter nearly got lost
Jadue contends that his children have been "lost" by district bus drivers on more than one occasion. A substitute driver drove by his house, even though his daughter notified the driver it was her stop, he said.
"If a bus driver has a hard time with just elementary children, how are they going to handle it with high school and elementary children?" Jadue asked.
He said the plan wasn't communicated well to parents by the district.
Heuer told parents that copies of the plan would be made available to them. He set 7 p.m. Wednesday at Watson Elementary to discuss the issue with parents.
If the parents propose an idea to enhance efficiency that district officials haven't considered, the district would be open to that, the superintendent said.

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