By Elise Franco
Austintown Local Schools officials are expected to forgo a controversial plan to offer public-transit vouchers to Catholic school students in lieu of district busing this school year.
Austintown Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said school district officials have spent the past two months working with Catholic school officials. They have agreed on a potential solution to the district’s initial plan of offering student vouchers for the Western Reserve Transit Authority, he said.
Austintown’s initial proposal, announced to parents in May, would have halted Austintown busing for students living in Austintown but attending St. Christine School, Ursuline High School or Mollie Kessler School beginning this fall.
The proposal offered public-transit vouchers to private-school students instead of using district vehicles.
Youngstown Christian School went through the same process with Austintown schools last year. School officials and parents there fought the decision and said none of their students uses the WRTA.
Colaluca said he wasn’t ready to outline details of the new proposal until it is finalized.
“We have a plan on the table that we think will work out,” he said. “It depends on [the Catholic schools] and if they can move some schedules around.”
Mike Pecchia, president of Youngstown Christian Schools, said the new proposal takes WRTA off the table and reinstates Austintown busing for Catholic students.
“I think the WRTA thing is put to bed. I think they realize it’s not an option,” Pecchia said. Austintown “is going to resume busing for us, and we have to provide an aide for the bus.”
Pecchia said the plan isn’t finalized because the Catholic schools are working out adjusting end-of-the-day scheduling. He said students are picked up each morning by Austintown buses, taken to Austintown Middle School where they’re put on one bus and dropped off at their respective schools. At the end of each day, they must arrive at Frank Ohl Intermediate School before 3:20 p.m. to catch their bus back home.
“The morning looks like it will be fine, and the students won’t be more than five minutes late, if at all,” Pecchia said. “In the afternoon we may have to let those kids out about 10 minutes early to meet their bus back to Austintown.”
Pecchia said he’s confident the scheduling will be resolved and a plan will be in place before the start of classes. Youngstown Christian Schools begin Aug. 27. Ursuline starts Aug. 22.
Randy Rair, assistant superintendent of the Youngstown Catholic Diocese, was not available for comment Friday afternoon.
Pecchia said he’s pleased the Catholic school officials were able to work with Austintown to resolve the issue.
“I understand that with all the buses and schedules, it’s difficult to make work, and I am pleased.”