By Christine Keeling
A change in the school district’s student-busing plan has not been well received by some parents.
The district’s transportation department is offering a neighborhood-style service and dodging construction on the main campus.
The changes have parochial schoolchildren riding with high-school students and children waiting for transfer buses in the district’s new bus garage bay.
Parent Nicole Fryfogle said the district’s decision to have her kindergartner ride the bus with older students is one of the reasons she chose to drive her three children to St. Joseph-Immaculate Heart of Mary school each day.
“Our kids didn’t ride with high-school kids last year,” Fryfogle said. “Now, you potentially can have a 5-year-old on the bus with an 18-year-old.”
District buses pick up Austintown Fitch students, Frank Ohl Intermediate students and all parochial school students at one time.
Colleen Murphy, transportation director, said the changes were made to save the district money.
She said fewer than 200 parochial-
school students were picked up using eight buses in previous years.
“Nonpublic students were riding one in a seat, and public students were riding three to a seat,” Murphy said. “We were doing the same route and the same miles twice a day.”
Picking up everyone in a neighborhood on the same time schedule, for example, eliminated one bus and saved $41,000, she said.
She said children are seated on the bus by age, with the youngest students closest to the driver.
“There have been no complaints from bus drivers,” Murphy said.
After the students are picked up, Frank Ohl students are dropped off at their school. Afterward, the buses circle the campus via Idaho Road, Mahoning Avenue and
Raccoon Road to drop off Fitch students because Falcon Drive is closed because of construction of two school buildings.
Students from St. Christine, St. Joseph-Immaculate Heart of Mary, Ursuline and Mooney high schools who ride the bus are released at the transportation department to wait in a garage bay for their respective transfer buses.
Last year, the transfer took place at Austintown Middle School on Raccoon Road.
“The bus bay is like where they don’t let you in when you go to a service station to have your car repaired,” said Neil Frengler, a parent of a 9-year-old St. Joseph-Immaculate Heart of Mary student.
The area where students wait is one of three bay areas attached to the transportation department.
“It’s a $350,000 facility,” said schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca. “It’s the newest building in the district.”
The surrounding bus parking area is safer for the students because it is away from traffic and surrounded by a fence, he added.
Murphy said the bay area was originally intended to be used as a place to wash buses. Three transfer aides watch the children, and doors leading to other bays are locked, she said. The area will be heated during cold weather.
Frengler, however, believes parochial school students are not being treated the same as public school students.
He said he doesn’t understand why his 9-year-old daughter has to walk to Frank Ohl, when she attends St. Joseph-Immaculate Heart of Mary. Meanwhile, other students who live near their home on Nantucket Drive are picked up by the bus.
According to state law, school districts do not have to provide transportation to students who live 2 miles or less from the school they are attending.
Murphy said the district’s walk-and-ride designated-areas have been around
longer than her. She said one student may be required to walk and another student one block away might not because a hazard, such as a busy
intersection, may be between them.
She said the department tries to follow the letter of the law when making its
Dan Welsh believes his daughter has been denied transportation because the transportation department read too much into the law.
After providing the
district with proof of residency and verification that he has shared custodial parenting with his ex-wife, his daughter was deemed ineligible for busing to his home, although the district agreed to bus her to his sister’s residence.
“It’s a lot of confusion and frustration,” Welsh said.
Randy Rair, assistant superintendent of government programs for the Diocese of Youngstown schools, said parents have approached him for guidance.
“I believe this could be settled in a win-win
situation for everyone if we could sit down and talk,” Rair said.
He said he has tried to set an appointment with the transportation department on five occasions to discuss parents’ safety concerns, yet he has received no
Patrick Gallaway, an ODE spokesman, said local districts are responsible for their busing decisions as long as those decisions don’t create a safety problem for children.
He said he hoped parents’ concerns could be settled at the district level because it is usually the quickest way, but if a compromise couldn’t be reached, residents always are entitled to call the state education department.
Colaluca also said residents can feel free to contact him with any concerns.