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Are only a handful of parents concerned about school bus cuts?

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POSTED April 23, 2009 2:01 a.m.
Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
I attended the Manteca Unified School District bus informational meeting at Manteca High on April 21.

I appreciated the professional and courteous way Jason Osborn, the transportation director, conducted the meeting and his informative presentation. Unfortunately, only a handful of parents took advantage of this opportunity to get the facts and let their concerns be heard. According to the district’s handout, 691 high school students, throughout the district, will no longer be eligible for bus transportation, while over 1,074 elementary students will also lose this privilege. I use the word “privilege” because, legally, the school district must only provide transportation for special ed students or those “overflow” students who can’t attend their neighboring schools. However, with such a long-standing policy of busing many other students as well, MUSD needs to take a long hard look at proposed changes to transportation.

The idea of switching the term “walking distance” to “no bus zone” is semantics and not grounded in reality. If MUSD plans to divorce the idea of its new “radius” from being walkable, then why are there two different distance criteria for high school (2.5 miles) and elementary (1.25 miles) students? The district believes in, “leaving the decision of how students will access the school site to the family.” But if, like me, you have a student living beyond the radius perimeters, bus transportation is provided and we parents don’t have to make that difficult decision. If you live far from the school, although, ironically, walking distance is supposedly no longer a factor, bus transportation is still available.

The district faces a huge budget deficit and cuts must be made in all areas. That is undeniable. Extending walking distances for students by 1/2 mile in safe conditions (adequate sidewalks, slow traffic, etc.) increases walking time by perhaps 15 minutes and should be an acceptable consideration. But MUSD and the Board should not discard the “current walking distance mitigations” which are essentially ways to protect students from dangerous situations on their way to and from school such as no sidewalks or inadequate road shoulders, crossing busy roads, or walking over freeway overpasses. In such cases, busing, regardless of distance from the school, has been provided. As long as board members choose to provide some bus transportation, safety of the students should be of prime consideration in their deliberations and choices.

With over 1,700 students affected by possible transportation policy changes, it is very discouraging that less than 50 parents attended informational meetings at the five high schools. Jason Osborn will bring forth these parents’ concerns and comments in his report at the April 28 school board meeting. But what is the unspoken, underlying message the board will hear? Only 50 parents out of 1,700 students were concerned enough to make the meeting? Every cut the Board makes will somehow hurt or adversely affect students. Each program or area to be cut will have its protesters or champions. And the Board faces the harsh reality that cuts must be made from somewhere.

The proposed transportation cuts, affecting over 1,700 students will save about $400,000. If more than 50 parents are truly concerned about this, you need to attend the next school board meeting at 7 p.m., April 28, and voice your worries and suggestions. Board members aren’t mind-readers and if there isn’t a ground swell of concern, they will logically conclude that most people are fine with the proposed school bus changes. Once these changes become a reality and are in operation, they will be difficult, if not impossible, to modify. If you don’t try to affect change and modify the bus proposal now, you and your students will only be left to deal with the consequences.
Karen Pearsall
Manteca
April 22, 2009
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