News

Board juggles school bus routes

It’s official. Beginning with the new school year next September, school bus routes will be changed, the so-called one-mile radius rule will be enforced, and some elementary and middle school students will switch schools.

Despite some strong objections, the Oak Harbor School District board of directors approved the proposal developed by members of the district’s boundary and transportation committee. No proposal was forwarded unless it received at least 60 percent approval from that committee. The issue came before the school board as an agenda item during its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday night.

The item passed on its first presentation and with no adjustments. Of the four board members present at the meeting, John Dyer, Kathy Chalfant and Vicki Harring voted for accepting the proposal, and Kathy Jones voted against it. Board member Gary Wallin was absent.

The approved proposal strictly enforces the one-mile radius, as the crow flies, from students’ residences to the school they attend, to determine whether or not school bus transportation is provided. Those living within the one-mile radius will not receive bus transportation. The written recommendation to the board also states that “this also applies to daycare students.”

The only exception to the one-mile radius rule will be if a hazardous walking condition exists along the route. The committee also developed, as part of the now approved recommendation, hazardous walking condition criteria, as well as a procedure parents will follow when asking the district to examine an area to determine if it is hazardous. In each case the hazardous condition will either be mitigated or the district will provide bus transportation to the area.

The committee also established guidelines for eliminating the school bus transfer system. Currently children attending school outside of their residence boundary area are provided bus transportation. The new rule will be that students will attend the school within their boundary area and will receive bus transportation if they live beyond the one-mile radius.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. Children enrolled in the ACE program, currently only offered at Broad View Elementary, children who attend Oak Harbor Elementary as their school of choice, and the busing of special education students as required by law, will still receive cross-boundary transportation.

The Boundary and Transportation Committee also recommended new school boundary lines at both the elementary and middle school levels. Committee members were charged with redrawing the boundaries in order to balance each area’s student population with the capacity of its school. The board examined maps as part of the proposal submitted by the committee, which showed changes to every school’s boundary area. The district will send letters to affected families.

Kathy Jones, school board president, had a couple of reason for voting against the proposal package.

“One of the reasons for adding a charge on redrawing boundary lines...was to address concerns by staff about irregularities in class size,” Jones said in a telephone interview on Tuesday morning.

But, Jones said, the committee’s recommendation added a subdivision of houses to the Broad View Elementary area, while Broad View is already overcrowded.

Jones is also concerned about the children who live in areas that will have to switch schools due to the boundary changes. She cited the example of her own son, who was in fourth grade the last time boundary changes were made. Her son was required to change to a different elementary school for his fifth-grade year.

“I know exactly where they’re coming from,” Jones said of the families that have come forward to express concern about their children having to change schools. “And, how disruptive that can be to a family and to a child.”

Jones, in her comments at the meeting during the board’s discussion of the matter, said that she would have preferred the proposal included a “grandfather clause,” so that students already in a school wouldn’t have to switch.

“I’m still disturbed with the lack of grandfathering,” Jones said.

Families, however, will be allowed to request an intradistrict transfer.

Despite Jones’ concerns, the board’s decision to vote on the proposal Monday night, rather than sending it back to the committee for revisions, was a good one, she said. The Oak Harbor School District is inundated with big issues that it must deal with right now, such as the emergency closing of the old North Whidbey Middle School and the development of a high school remodeling plan.

“I think we took the right action in bringing it to a vote,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, opponents of the boundary and bus route changes are disappointed, but are not surprised.

“I find it hard to work in a system where there’s no compromise,” said Butch Laurion, executive director of the Armed Services YMCA, one of the before-and after-school daycare centers that will no longer receive school bus transportation for the children in its care.

Laurion is also a member of the boundary and transportation committee. By the time the proposal was finalized to send to the school board, Laurion said he didn’t agree with it but would have to accept it.

“I don’t understand this really hard stand on daycare transportation,” Laurion said. He said he doesn’t like that fact that exceptions will be made for children in the ACE program and those attending the school of choice, but not for families that rely on daycares.

“I don’t think the school district people have any compassion for working parents,” Laurion said. “It’s almost like working parents aren’t in a class to be recognized.”

Meanwhile Laurion’s efforts will focus on maintaining the ASYMCA’s before-and after-school programs. The ASYMCA’s board and staff will continue to examine alternatives, he said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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