Thursday, February 4, 2016

On discretionary busing

Last week the board voted unanimously to change our current system of discretionary busing. Busing is considered “discretionary” when we give it to areas that aren’t far enough away from school to be entitled to busing under state law. State law requires that we offer busing to K-8 students who live more than two miles from school and to high school students who live more than three miles from school. Our district has chosen to offer busing to other neighborhoods, too, often on the rationale that there were safety concerns that made walking to school difficult. The new policy is to focus discretionary busing on areas that face socioeconomic barriers to transportation. In other words, economically better-off areas will be less likely to qualify for discretionary busing.

There were several reasons for the change. Money is increasingly scarce, since the legislature has been stingy with school funding. Money for buses competes with many other priorities, including keeping class sizes manageable and addressing the proficiency gaps we’ve seen among more vulnerable student populations. It was also hard to identify consistent criteria for who would be entitled to discretionary busing under the safety rationale. In reality, the state’s idea of “walking distance” is unrealistic for many, many families, especially if their kids are in the very early grades. I doubt there are many kindergartners walking 1.8 miles to school. But we can’t possibly afford to give busing to all of those families, so there was an arbitrariness in providing discretionary busing to some neighborhoods but not others.

Although the issue has been discussed at several board meetings, the specific proposal we adopted appeared on the school board agenda just five days before we voted on it. At the meeting, I raised the idea that we should wait until the next meeting to vote on it, to give more of an opportunity for public input and for people to identify counterarguments. The full board did not appear receptive to that idea, and I didn’t push it. In retrospect, I wish I had made a formal motion to that effect, but in the end, I strongly suspect the two weeks wouldn’t have changed anyone’s vote (mine included).

The proposal that we adopted states, “Neighborhoods whose top priority is to receive a bus should provide this input into the Elementary Attendance Zone review.” I think the idea behind that sentence is that if we’re busing a particular neighborhood anyway, we may as well use that busing to meet our other goals—such as making the best use of available capacity or trying to achieve “balance” socioeconomically and in terms of English-language learner and special-education status. Personally, I have my doubts about spending money on busing to pursue that kind of balancing. That said, I can at least see the logic of saying that neighborhoods that receive discretionary busing should have to be flexible about which school they end up at.

Though the new policy will result in cuts to some discretionary busing, we don’t yet know exactly who will lose their busing. It might be possible to continue to serve some neighborhoods that wouldn’t otherwise qualify under the new policy simply because there is room for them on buses that we’ll be running anyway. All of those decisions can be made, I assume, only after the board has settled the new elementary school boundaries, which we hope to do by May of this year.


b jean said...

I appreciate your comments that explain the difficulty of the decision placed before the board. I wondered how the word "safety" does not seem to be highlighted in discourse on the issue. In addition to the physical safety of the walking route in question during good weather there's physical safety to consider in winter windchill situations. Many parents impacted will presumably choose to drive their children to school, which causes an issue with increased traffic. I have not heard that the schools or the city have been consulted to determine how the change in traffic will be handled since it will cause a burden for them. I hope there will be increased police patrols along the new walking route. I hope a safety, liability, and feasibility study is being performed to look at ALL of those presumably impacted by this decision.

Amy R said...

There is no safe walking path for the children who attend Kate Wickham and live East of 1st Avenue/North Liberty Road and North of Oakdale. The kids on bus #68 whose parents received letters today notifying them of loss of bus service starting the coming school year are gravely concerned. Cars whizz by at 45 mph on 1st Avenue and there are no sidewalks. Come on! We will be appealing this!

Carrie B said...

There is also no safe walking path for those Coralville Central students who live north of I-80 and west of 12th Ave. Families on bus #27 also please speak out of this concern.

Unknown said...

Our neighborhood is 1.7-1.9 miles from Van Allen & NCJH, and requires the kids to cross 4 lanes of Hwy 965, walk past the home of a registered sex offender, across a bridge, across railroad tracks, and across Front St (no crossing guard there for NCJH). We started the process of writing an appeal, and we sent an email to the board requesting that they come walk the route with a parent in the morning to see our concerns. The response we received from Chris Lynch was essentially that if busing is a priority for our neighborhood, then we should give our input to the Elementary Attendance Neighborhood Input Process; we took this to mean that if we want our kids on a bus, then we'd better be flexible about what school the district sends them to. He also said if we have concerns about the safety of the walking route, we should take it up with our local municipality. Our interpretation of those remarks were "safety is not the board's problem," which is contrary to the recommendations they put forth this time last year when they were discussing discretionary busing:
"The Board discussed advocating for more sidewalks, feedback from parents, exploring options, metrics and data to use, getting PTO's involved, talking to coaches, setting attendance areas before determining discretionary bussing, and the need to determine safety criteria first and foremost.

Motion to reject proposal to eliminate discretionary bussing, to maintain the current discretionary bus routes, to direct administration to develop objective criteria, and to develop Alexander routes using current criteria.

Dude reviewed a list of nine things he believes the Board would like administration to do: Ask UI to provide assistance in developing safety criteria; Ask UI to do the analysis by taking it on as a research project; Do a literature review of research on safe routes; Ask cities to ask the MPO to create a system; Work with the DOT to develop criteria; Look at what systems other districts use; Create a Safe Routes Task Force to use community members to develop the criteria; Use volunteers to evaluate the routes; Talk to coaches about what routes are safe; Explore hub and spoke routing to reduce costs; Present the challenge at a joint government meeting.”
(March 24, 2015 board docs)

sdcpt said...

Is choosing to remove discretionary busing to those neighborhoods who are not of lower economic status, not, itself, discrimination? Regardless of what the vote was or what it would have become with an additional 2 weeks notice for input, I wish you would have pushed the issue further as it was your first thought, and the correct one in my opinion. Elected officials need to go to their constituents for input before making decisions that effect our lives and more importantly, our children's lives. You are an elected official and owe that to those who elected you. Public service is a hard job, and I appreciate your willingness to serve. I know you will not be able to please all of the people all of the time. I agree with many of your points about funding and we all need to talk with our state officials and governor about the lack of funding. I am not in agreement with your and the board's decision to cut busing. A first grader walking 2 miles to school in this day in age is much different, unfortunately, than when I was in grade school. People are distracted, cell phones are in use during driving, people are in a hurry. I understand this is not the board's responsibility, but should be taken into consideration when looking at our children's safety. If one child is inured, or god forbid, worse than injured, the money saved will never be worth it.

MamaBearof6 said...

We will have 2 kindergartners, a 2nd grader with ADHD and a 5th grader having to walk to school 1.9 miles away which means they will have to leave the house by 7am to make it to the new time change of 7:55am. It is still extremely dark out at this time especially in the winter. There are no sidewalks on the route our children will have to take to get to school. In the winter we have to worry about -0 degree weather and icy roads. Crossing 965 is already dangerous, what will happen when traffic is increased? There is SO much danger associated with this change and it is terrifying to me. The line to pick up kids after school is already going out to N Front. What will happen when this number is doubled? Some parents will be unable to drop off and/or pick up children due to work and other obligations. We will have a child in the middle school as well starting an hour later. This equals at least 4 trips a day if we are even able to manage taking them on our own. I would like to know who of these voters have children and what ages they are. I can't imagine any of them have children who will have to walk otherwise they would've given this a second thought. I'm disgusted with this school district and their priorities when it comes to safety.It's going to take a child getting killed and a law suit to get them to open their eyes.