By Elise Franco
Administrators with the Youngstown Catholic Diocese, Youngstown Christian and Austintown schools met Tuesday with the Western Reserve Transit Authority to discuss the ongoing issue of busing students outside the Austintown school district.
Austintown Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said the group of administrators attended a closed meeting to continue discussion on Austintown’s proposal to offer public-transit vouchers to private-school students instead of using district vehicles.
Austintown’s proposal, announced to parents in May, 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.
Mike Pecchia, president of Youngstown Christian Schools, said previously that the original plan to send students on a pre-existing WRTA route was an unsafe option.
But Pecchia said after Wednesday’s meeting that he’s confident a resolution favorable to all sides will be reached.
“I felt like both sides heard each other. I think we’re trying to figure out a way to resolve this,” he said. “We’ve got some work to do on it. ... But there was a willingness to sit down and come up with a solution.”
Randy Rair, assistant superintendent of the Youngstown Catholic Diocese, said the administrators will meet again next week to hopefully make a final decision.
Rair said the best-case scenario for the diocese is that Austintown continues to bus its students using Austintown’s transportation.
“We’re willing to look at some other options provided that they’re safe and they get the children to school on time,” he said. “Though I’m not ready to speak publicly on those options yet.”
Colaluca said Austintown’s goal in this has always been to save money, and that will remain its goal.
He would not specify potential alternatives to Austintown’s plan but said WRTA remains an option.
“We’re going to continue to look at some other means of transportation, if they’re cost effective,” he said. “Austintown is looking to saving dollars, and the [private schools] are looking for viable means of transportation.”
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.