Districts’ busing policies differ
When it comes to busing at area schools there's no such thing as consistency.
At last month's school board meeting, Tonganoxie bus supervisor Shari Curry asked the board about the possibility of picking up students who live in Eagle Valley subdivision on the south end of Tonganoxie.
These students, she said, must cross Washington Street where there is no crosswalk, and along most of their walk to school there are no sidewalks. The farthest homes in this area are 2.25 miles from the junior high school and about two miles from the elementary school.
State aid reimburses districts for busing students who live 2.5 miles or farther from their school. Districts that transport students within the 2.5-mile limit do so at their own expense.
Because the new housing developments in North Star and Stone Creek are on the north side of U.S. Highway 24-40, it is the district's policy to bus these students, even though they live closer than 2.5 miles, Curry said.
An informal poll taken by The Mirror last week revealed that while one district in the area picks up all students even those who live across the street from the school other districts refuse to pick up any students who live within a town's city limits. And, one district that does pick up students who live closer than 2.5 miles from the school charges for the service.
Here's a rundown of how several area districts handle busing services:
Cheryl Blackburn, transportation director for Basehor-Linwood, said the district will bus students who live closer than 2.5 miles from the school.
"They've always picked them up," said Blackburn, a transportation department employee for 25 years.
The general policy is the bus will pick up students who live more than a mile away.
"But for the grade school if it works that we pass by and we've got room we do pick up kids who live closer than that," Blackburn said.
The bus sometimes picks up children who live a half-mile away.
"If it would come to the point where we didn't have enough room or buses, we would eliminate those kids' rides first," Blackburn said. "But we've got the space."
And, at the rural Glenwood Ridge Elementary School, almost all students are bused or driven to school.
Blackburn said she understands parents' concern that their children be bused.
"Now almost every parent is working so the kids don't have parents at home to run them to school," Blackburn said. "I understand where they're concerned."
Don Swartz, director of business and facilities, said there is no charge for busing.
"We've talked about it," Swartz said. "If the budget crunch keeps snowballing, that would be a possibility."
Debbie Elmer, transportation director, said the district's policy varies, depending on where the students live.
"Most of our students in the Edwardsville area live under two and a half miles," Elmer said. "But because of the highways and the railroad tracks, and there being no sidewalks through that area, we do transport them."
In the Bonner Springs area, in several housing developments where students would have to cross highways, the district does provide busing. Drivers try to pick up grade school children as close to their homes as possible.
"For high school and middle school students, we try to pick them up at bus stops," Elmer said. "It depends on cul-de-sacs and if you can get the bus in there or not."
Elmer, who has worked for the district for 18 years, said that's the way it has been done ever since she has been there.
Although the district has looked into charging for riders who live closer than 2.5 miles, at this time students are bused for free, Elmer said.
Linda Russell, who has worked in the Baldwin school's transportation department for 27 years, said rural children who live closer than 2.5 miles who live on bus routes are picked up.
In the city, there is no busing, except for the kindergarten and preschool program, she said.
However, the district does bus children who live in developments on the north side of U.S. Highway 56 so they don't have to walk across the highway. Russell said this area is four to six blocks from school.
At the new developments, students are picked up at designated bus stops.
"It seems like it works pretty good and I think people really appreciate it," Russell said. "I think there's some question from people in town who say why do you bus those kids but not our kids."
Russell said her own grandchildren live in the southeast corner of Baldwin.
"They have a bus that runs within two blocks of their house and they can't ride it."
Seven or eight years ago the district attempted to pick up children throughout Baldwin, stopping at designated stops in the town.
"It worked pretty well, but that's just one place where they thought they could cut," Russell said.
No students are charged for busing.
Eudora utilizes a shuttle bus system to allow students to walk to the nearest school and be bused to their own school, said Mike Jerome, operations director for the district.
"We shuttle kids from school to school," Jerome said. "Currently we have four schools and that is where we pick up kids that live in the city limits."
If students live outside the city limits, they are bused, even if they live closer than 2.5 miles from the school.
Students are bused from Meadowlark subdivision because they would have to walk on a bridge across Kansas Highway 10.
"The high school is just a fourth of a mile south, but there are no crosswalks going across the county road, no sidewalks and they have to walk down in the ditch or up on the road," Jerome said.
A new high school is expected to open across the road from Meadowlark next year. At that time, Jerome said, a pedestrian -activated stoplight will be installed so the students won't be bused.
The district hears occasional complaints from others who would like for their children to be bused.
"We have an area east of town that is really being developed, there are a lot of new houses and they want a bus to come up there," Jerome said. "But we have kind of held our stance and said the only reason we go out to the Meadowlark division is there's no crosswalk and heavy traffic goes 45 miles per hour out there."
The district doesn't charge for busing students who live within the 2.5 miles.
"We don't charge anything yet," Jerome said.
In McLouth, there has been talk of charging for busing students who live closer than 2.5 miles, but currently there is no fee.
Paul Reed, transportation director, said students who live within the city limits are not bused. Rural students who live within 2.5 miles are bused.
Reed said at this time it would not be feasible for the district, which owns its own fleet, to charge for busing.
"We were told it would alter our insurance, raising our rates significantly if we charged for bus service, so we do not."
The Piper school district is known for its inclusiveness when it comes to busing.
"Piper picks up all the children throughout the whole district," said Sherrie Jones, director of transportation. "They can pick up children who live across the street from the school."
The justification, in part, Jones said, is that Piper is a rural area with no sidewalks.
In new housing developments, children are picked up at designated bus stops, in part because it's difficult to maneuver buses through cul-de-sacs.
"The school district has always said that the children may be required to walk up to a mile to the bus stop," Jones said. "But we don't do that. I've been driving school buses since 1979 for Piper."
Piper does not charge for busing.
Three years ago, De Soto adopted a pay-to-ride program, said Jack Deyoe, director of operations.
"The history of our school district has been that we have hauled everybody," Deyoe said. "For years and years they hauled them at no expense the school district picked up the expenses that the state didn't pay."
Now the district's policy is this: "If you're under the two and a half miles, we'll haul you, but you have to pay a bus fee to do it," Deyoe said.
The fee is $210 per student, with a maximum of $420 for a household.
Currently, only about one-third of De Soto's 1,000-plus students live more than 2.5 miles from the school. And, Deyoe said, according to state law, special education students and students who qualify for free or reduced lunches can not be charged for busing.
Deyoe estimated that the pay-to-ride program is bringing in about $75,000 to $80,000 each year.
It helps pay for the rides.
"It costs us about $420 to haul a student for a year, so at $210 the district is still picking up 50 percent of the cost," Deyoe said.
Before enacting the pay-to-ride the district paid for the cost of busing students who lived closer than 2.5 miles out of the general fund budget.
Public reaction to the pay-to-ride program was mixed.
"We still had a lot of people sign up," Deyoe said. "They did so grudgingly. But now that we're in the third year we don't get so many complaints."