School District 51 parents adjust to busing changes
Three weeks into school and 16 bus routes down, School District 51 students and the parents who drive or walk them to school are gradually adapting to walking boundary changes.
The district pushed the boundaries back this year by a mile to a two-mile walking radius for elementary school students and a three-mile walking radius for middle and high school students. District 51 School Board members decided on the change in June in hopes of saving up to $650,000 as part of a $5.76 million budget cut for 2012-13. Reductions will cover pay increases for district employees, who had frozen salaries for up to three years; anticipated enrollment declines; a mandatory increase in retirement benefit contributions; and money to keep the district’s maintenance fund flat.
District 51 Safety and Transportation Director Tim Leon said the district still plans to save close to $650,000 but is unlikely to save the full amount because some bus routes were extended to pick up extra students due to safety concerns. Parents could lodge complaints with the district online beginning Aug. 6 if they felt a bus route had been cut in an area that would require students to walk an unsafe route to school. The page is still available on the district’s website, d51schools.org, but Leon said the more than 100 concerns he received via e-mail have trickled done to nearly zero since about the middle of the second week of school.
“I know that parents don’t like some of it but they’ve adapted and kids are getting to school on time, they’re getting to school safely, and that was our goal,” Leon said.
Leon said his office has responded to the majority of parents who sent concerns to his office or asked to have routes returned in an area, though some requests are still being weighed. Leon said most of the calls he is handling now are for “what you would consider normal,” such as concerns about a student getting a disciplinary “green slip” on a bus for bad behavior.
Congestion is still an issue at some schools, Leon said, and a traffic plan at Thunder Mountain Elementary, where drivers have been separated between an east and a west parking lot, is still being worked on after complaints of backed-up traffic on F 1/2 Road.
Although lines have hedged a bit in the mornings at Mt. Garfield Middle School, according to parent Jay Nettleblad, the lines can still get lengthy.
“Driving in and out (of the school parking lot) is kind of a bear,” he said.
Across town at Redlands Middle School, parent Karen Mitchell said it’s “a mad house” when she drops off her 12-year-old son, who until this year took a bus to school. While waiting to pick him up Thursday, she said she lets her son walk home from school sometimes but doesn’t feel comfortable with him crossing at Redlands Parkway and Broadway. Mitchell said it’s difficult to turn out of the school’s parking lot onto Broadway each morning and she said cars were backed up to Redlands Parkway on the first day of school.
“This is a big inconvenience,” Mitchell said. “(The transition has) gone well, but it’s still an inconvenience.”
A few cars behind Mitchell on Thursday afternoon, a grandfather who did not want to be identified said he has picked up his grandkids at Redlands Middle School a couple times a week for five years. In the afternoons, at least, he said he “hasn’t noticed much of a difference.”
With Labor Day gone and bus ridership more settled, Leon said school buses have started allowing kids in neighborhoods near bus stops to walk to the stops and ride a bus for $10 a month.
“We should be able to accommodate most of them” if service is requested, Leon said.