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Austintown parents panel vows to fight busing plan

Published: Wed, June 13, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.

By Ashley Luthern



  Austintown Bus Issue

A committee of concerned parents say their Tuesday news conference is only the opening salvo in a fight against Austintown’s proposal to offer public-transit vouchers to private-school students instead of using district vehicles.
“Stick with us and fight this fight. ...We cannot let them win because if they win, who’s next? Canfield? Boardman?” said David Gerchak, a member of the Austintown Parents for the Safe Transportation of Students Committee.

A committee of concerned parents say their Tuesday news conference is only the opening salvo in a fight against Austintown’s proposal to offer public-transit vouchers to private-school students instead of using district vehicles. “Stick with us and fight this fight. ...We cannot let them win because if they win, who’s next? Canfield? Boardman?” said David Gerchak, a member of the Austintown Parents for the Safe Transportation of Students Committee.

A committee of concerned parents says its Tuesday news conference is only the opening salvo in a fight against Austintown’s proposal to offer public-transit vouchers to private-school students instead of using district vehicles.

“Stick with us and fight this fight. ... We cannot let them win because if they win, who’s next? Canfield? Boardman?” said David Gerchak, a member of the Austintown Parents for the Safe Transportation of Students Committee.

He was one of several speakers who addressed a crowd of more than 80 people at St. Christine School.

The committee provided route maps of current Western Reserve Transit Authority services and explained that students as young as kindergarten age would have a layover and bus transfer at Federal Station downtown.

The final stops would be about one mile from St. Christine and Ursuline schools, requiring students to walk and be late to class.

“We are legally entitled to timely transportation, and Austintown is morally obligated to provide safe transportation,” said Scott Schulick, chairman of the Ursuline High School Board of Directors.

Austintown’s proposal would affect students at St. Christine, Ursuline and Mollie Kessler beginning this fall. 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 WRTA.

Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said he recognized parents’ concerns and has set a meeting with WRTA officials to try to develop a public-transit route that would not have a downtown transfer.

But he stands by his original decision because “they aren’t riding our buses.”

Last year, Austintown received reimbursement from the state to transport four St. Christine students out of the 62 Austintown residents who attend; 17 from Ursuline of the 77 who attend; and all three Austintown students who attend Mollie Kessler.

The reimbursement is not enough to make up the total cost, and Austintown spends about $2,700 per student annually to transport private students to schools outside the township, Colaluca said.

It costs $623 per student annually to transport students in the district and those who attend St. Joseph and Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Austintown, which is why the district will continue busing there, he said.

Nicole Kent Strollo, a parent of Ursuline students, said at the news conference that Austintown had low ridership to Ursuline because the buses were consistently late.

“The buses don’t get them there in a timely manner, which is why students who attend Ursuline don’t ride the bus. ... I still appreciate the service and safety associated with it. I truly hope they decide to make the safest decision,” she said.

Colaluca said lateness has been a problem, and he approached Catholic schools about changing start times, but those discussions didn’t go anywhere.

Debbie Woodford, who has children attending St. Christine’s and Ursuline, said Colaluca is willing to “compromise our children’s safety” and criticized the board of education for what she termed its silence on the issue.

School-board member Harold Porter attended the press conference but declined to speak per board policy that only the board president can speak for the board.

President Dr. Tom Stellers said that board as a whole has yet to discuss the proposal, but as an individual, he said it’s his understanding there are “continuing discussions.”

“It’s really difficult because we keep hearing to run our schools like a business, and then we do and we get slammed for that, too. The big issue really is state funding for education in Ohio, and in this particular case it’s the very low ridership of Youngstown private school students, which is fewer than 30 kids,” Stellers said.

Stellers added that county residents support WRTA, citing approval of a sales tax to generate revenue for the transit service.

Parents said throughout the news conference that while they value WRTA, it is unsafe for their children to ride it unsupervised to get to school.

“Yes, we care about kids’ safety,” Colaluca said. “But we try to meet all needs of all our students.”

Cost is a consideration, he added. The district spends about $2.2 million on transportation out of its $40 million general fund and is trying to cut costs without affecting academics as it loses $2 million in state funding.

Colaluca said administrators reorganized all bus routes, lowering transportation time, and as a result, cut back on hours for bus drivers, who subsequently lost their benefits.

Austintown could eliminate high-school busing, like several other Mahoning Valley districts, but that would affect 1,000 students compared to 24 students the public-transit proposal affects, he said.


1soaringeagle8495(4 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

This issue seems a no brainer to me and makes no sense. I have been following this story and quite frankly think it is ridiculous. Arguments were made that a parent paid taxes and opted out of the public school system so therefore as a concession was entitled to busing to private school. I do not have kids in school and I too pay taxes. Does that mean I get to say "Okay no kids in school, I pay taxes for schools, so instead I want another service given to me"? No it does not. Opting out of the private school system the parent made a choice. If you can pay the tuition then you can get your child to and from school. It is that simple. The taxpayers nor the government should be responsible for busing private school pupils. Why do the private schools not by a van or something to transport their pupils? I went to catholic schools in Baltimore through college and we never were given publicly funded busing. I took the number 8 MTA bus every school day for a dozen years. It is not anti-education nor anti-child to expect a parent to be responsible for the transport of their child to a private school when they opt out of public schools, it is just common sense. I think since this is being made into such an issue we taxpayers against the busing should make that known.

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2whitesabbath(738 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Bunch of cry baby's !!!! Suck it up , the exersize will slim these kids down, besides gives them character they can tell their grand children they had to walk to school 2 miles uphill through snow storms right after they did morning chores so when school was over they could rush home to do evening chores.

Not every child is going to be the president of the United States , or a big CEO, not only are the kids lazy, so are most of the parents.

Oh by the way , Grammar Nazi , you can go to Hell !!.

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3youngstownsteve(75 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Colaluca says screw the Catholic kids but at the same time these administrators feel it is cost effective to belong to the Federal League and transport players to Stark county for sport events, Throw these bums out and NEVER VOTE FOR AN AUSTINTOWN SCHOOL LEVY again.
I want to see Colaluca, Bokesch and their families ride WRTA everyday to work. It would never happen.

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4Knightcap(699 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Safety should be the priority here. This wasn't well thought out. Maybe if Colaluca spent some time at the WRTA garage he would understand that this is no place for kids. There are other ways to skin a cat.

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5Ytownnative(1036 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I agree with the safety part. I can see high scool kids riding WRTA but grade school is a little too young to be on those busses especially in the dark during the winter.

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6stoutmaster(29 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

They're not getting criticized for running a school like a business, they're getting criticized for POORLY running it like a business. Case in point: federal station is at least 2 miles farther than St Christine from austintown high school. It would cost more to bus them downtown. I'm sure St Jo IHM is closer. There's no savings based on mileage and time IMHO.

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7CantStandYa(123 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I say all opposed to this cowardly strongarm tactic should take a page from the Union playbook and form a picket line outside Vincent Colaluca's home. Send a clear message that if he wants to put childrens safety at risk instead of saving money somewhere else, his home will become ground zero for angry parents with signs. Perhaps his neighbors will help him reconsider.

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8lwright(3 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Schools educate, feed, babysit and discipline the children today. Schools within the districts city limits, public or private, are transported. Elect to send your child somewhere else and this becomes the districts responsibility too. You have the right to choose where to educate your child. Those transporting their children out of district can apply for In Lieu of Transportation reimbursement. If I chose to send my child outside of my district, I would just assume, it would be my responsibility to get them to and from school. If it was another public school with open enrollment there would be no busing.

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9ohioption(49 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I can't believe that some folks in Mahoning County cannot resolve this problem. At least you have a decent transit authority. That is more than we can say in Trumbull County. The per mile cost for WRTA is about 60% that of our nonexistent scheduled bus transit in Trumbull county. You even have scheduled loop service in the ABC suburbs.

Take your vouchers and work out a scheduled loop service with WRTA, This is not that difficult a problem. Unless you make it difficult.

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10mvred(5 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Colaluca has NO problem cutting Austintown busing for private schools outside the township, all while he took in a $2,000 raise last year bumping his salary up to $97,000.

Way to set a good example as a good steward of our tax dollars Austintown School Board.

You will not win this fight!

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11Old_School(39 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Don't you all realize that this is just a ploy to have the parents drive their kids to school? In the long run, that is what is happening at Youngstown Christian and what will happen here. Who is really going to put their kid on one of those buses?

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12AtownParent(562 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

@youngstownsteve - Austintown is no longer in the Federal League, the are independent in Football and in the ACC for all other sports.

@oldschool - it is actually a ploy to get all those kids that don't go to Austintown schools to come back to the schools. Austintown has long been trying to figure out why people send their kids to schools outside the district.

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13Old_School(39 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

@AtownParent - Why would they care to keep them in the system when they have open enrollment? They can just take more kids from Youngstown and get that money anyway.

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14fattynskinny(195 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

if you want your kids schooled elsewhere, YOU figure out the transportation, plain and simple

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15valleyred(1097 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

FattyNSkinny, the law states otherwise. Read up on the 1965 Ohio Fair Bus Law.

These parents pay a considerable portion of their property taxes to the Austintown School District. By law, they are entitled to safe and timely transportation of their children.

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16danikytn(248 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Yes, provide them transportation, if they send their children to the school district that they pay taxes to. If they want to send their children to private school, then take them yourself. I live on once side of Youngstown but choose to send my children to another one of Youngstowns elementary schools on a different side of town on a transfer, so you know what i have to do? I have to provide transportation for them, and thats even in the same district! So, if i can afford to take my children to school every day, then someone who pays 3900 a year in tuition should be able to manage. Try carpooling, it is your choice to take them somewhere else. Quit whining, there are so many more important issues. Good grief people.

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17Education_Voter(858 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I don't think throwing a group tantrum is the answer to this issue.

David says, "Stick with us and fight this fight. ... We cannot let them win because if they win, who’s next? Canfield? Boardman?” said David Gerchak.
Indeed, what is next? Kids who want to get transported to go to Catholic School in Girard or Niles ?

It would take David about 7 minutes by car to drive his kids to St. Christines on his way to work. Especially since St. Christines insists on starting so early in the morning.
And if carpooling home doesn't work because school ends to early, how about an afterschool program? It could be in the St. Christine Preschool building. If you are not home to pick your child up after school, is he going home to an empty house anyway?

Mrs. Strollo admits that most Ursuline students don't ride the bus, even when they have one available.

And Youngstown Christian? Give me a break. Your church bus goes all over Austintown and the west side of Youngstown picking kids up for Highway Tabernacle's afterschool activities. Why not extend it?

This is a tempest in a teapot.

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18skittles(7 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Directly from the Ohio Dept. of Education, National studies state, "school buses are the safest method for transportation of young people_nearly 30X safer than passenger cars." The decisions by the Austintown Board of Ed. were based simply on money. The lack of concern for the grade school kids as young as 5yrs. is appalling to say the very least. The district is responsible to provide bus service to non-public students at the level that it is providing to it's own students. Comments like, "let them walk, it will slim these kids down and give them character" are not necessary and do not add to a hopefully intelligent conversation in which some hard decisions need to be made. Yes, it was a personal choice to send my own kids to private school and yes I do pay taxes. I expect fair and thoughtful decisions by the board and ask them to reflect on the time when their own children went to school. Honestly, would you put your young child on a bus service that transfers downtown and then drops them off 1 mile from their school.

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19DwightK(1256 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Dr. Sellers, the school board is not being criticized for running the schools like a business. They are being criticized because they made ridiculous decision. How can you trust the entity that is in charge of children's welfare to do the right thing when they think it is ok to expose children to the WRTA terminal downtown? I'd like to see you go down there and use the restroom and fend off the bums.

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20valleyred(1097 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago


When parents pay a considerable portion of their taxes to the Austintown School District, by law, they are entitled to safe and timely transportation of their children to school each day.

This is not a government handout. This is the law.

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21AtownParent(562 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

@Oldschool - it is all about the almighty dollar. They don't get any money for kids that go to school outside the district and they want those dollars.

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22LB(18 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

lwrite - Austintown has refused In Lieu of Transportation Reimbursement to the students attending schools outside of Austintown Township. It is WRTA bus passes or nothing. I hope EVERY Austintown resident student insists on receiving the WRTA bus passes whether or not they plan to use them.

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23Education_Voter(858 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

skittles, I wish someone would address the fact that the same bus that goes by Arden Blvd. also goes past St. Christine,and that there is a stop in front of St. Christine at Schenley and Kirk.
I don't think little kids should have to make a transfer downtown, but I also don't think people should keep saying that students will be dropped off a mile from school.
Ursuline students are another matter, especially on the way home. Walking down the hill from UHS to the bus stop to catch WRTA is no big deal, something I did frequently in my UHS and YSU years. It's a good life skill to know how to catch public transportation.
On cold mornings, I wouldn't really want to walk UP the hill, I'd try to catch a ride on those days.

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24southsidedave(4780 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Education costs have spiraled out of control...levies must be passed - whatever happened to walking to school?

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25Bigben(1996 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I am no longer Catholic but I did walk to Cath Grade school because I lived close enough.HS was a different story we took the bus as walking would have been absurd given the distance. The buses always took kids that were farther flung to my schools decades ago.

These days I think the world has changed and I am not so sure sending kids off to school walking especially at younger ages is a good idea. Older kids in groups could be different story.

Our standard of living seems to be sinking in the U.S.

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26fattynskinny(195 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

perhaps our state law needs to be changed....want your kids schooled out of your district, you arrange and pay for it. there has to be a line drawn somewhere here.

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27USMC0331(150 comments)posted 2 years, 2 months ago

Its taxes, we pay them that's what they are there for!!!! If I choose to send my child to a private school do i get the tax money back for not sending them to that district? No, so bus them and shut your mouth! WRTA? Ya, ok and then make the bus stop a crack house while your at it! Unbelievable! Stop with the bull crap scare tactics! And for the record i send my children to the school district where i live!

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