Group tackles school bus routes

A group of parents, community members, city employees, and school district staff has convened for the first in a series of meetings in an effort to hammer out school bus routes once and for all.

The Oak Harbor School Board directed the transportation department to form the Boundary and Transportation Study Committee and gather input following a controversy last summer when the department informed the public that two bus routes that were not covered by state funding needed to be cut. Parents had voiced protests at school board meetings and lodged telephone complaints to the director of school transportation, saying that the route cuts would inconvenience them and might jeopardize the safety of students. The two routes continue to run during the current school year, with revisions possible for next school year. The school bus transfer system is also under review.

The committee’s task is to come up with district-wide school bus routes that will ensure student safety and department efficiency. The committee must present options for a solution to the superintendent of schools by May 1.

“The first meeting was about what are we going to accomplish,” said Vonnie Edwards, director of transportation for Oak Harbor School District. Another meeting is scheduled for Jan. 29, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the district administrative services building at Oak Harbor St. and Third Ave. SW. The group will discuss school boundaries and transfers, and the public is invited to attend.

Specifically, the committee must come up with at least three different transportation department operating options to present to the school board for consideration.

At least one option must be cost-neutral, which means that the transportation department’s expenditures and revenues must be no more than the current year’s budget.

The second option requires a revised transportation system that would be able to operate entirely within the amount the district receives from state funding.

Thirdly, the board expects an option that will identify additional costs of transporting students who live in areas where the walk to school would be hazardous and for those who choose to attend a school other than the one within the attendance boundary of their home.

The route cuts had been proposed last summer in order to balance the department’s budget and to ensure equal treatment to all students, Edwards said at that time. The state only provides transportation funding for students who live outside a one-mile radius, as the crow flies, of their school. Some students received transportation although their destination was within one mile of the school, while the majority of students within the mile either walked or had parent-provided transportation to and from school.

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