New busing schedules could mean fewer stops

 

When the school board slashed almost $4 million from the
district’s budget, the transportation department suffered a cut
that could leave parents wondering how to get their kids to school
next year.
When the school board slashed almost $4 million from the district’s budget, the transportation department suffered a cut that could leave parents wondering how to get their kids to school next year.

By simplifying the complicated network of school buses that currently serves 1,300 students, the district will save $350,000.

Three modifications to the current schedule will produce the savings: elimination of Wednesday early dismissal for grades K through 8, consolidation or elimination of in-town bus stops for the high school and changing Rucker Elementary School to all-day kindergarten.

The board tossed around the idea of charging families for bus service, something the Morgan Hill Unified School District has been doing for more than a decade, said Linda Evaro, MHUSD director of transportation.

“And we’re not the only one,” she said. “Lots of districts charge for transportation.”

According to the law, bus service from home to school is a privilege, not a right, she said, with the exception of special education students. Her philosophy: “Parents have to get their kids to school and we’ll give them an education. That way, general fund money goes into the classroom, instead of buying fuel and tires.”

A round trip annual pass for one student costs $300, or about $0.84 per trip, a small fee compared to public transportation and fuel costs, Evaro said. Meanwhile, she filled up a bus Thursday morning at a rate of $4.44 per gallon of diesel.

Despite rising fuel and maintenance costs and less money, Gilroy Unified School District board members expressed concern for eliminating any bus stops at all.

“We would be remiss if we assume that every parent has the wherewithal to get their student to school,” Trustee Pat Midtgaard said. “That bus is a lifeline. Many families are very dependent on busing.”

Midtgaard said that charging could be a possibility, but recognized that some parents might choose to drive their students.

Midtgaard, a GUSD teacher for 12 years and a principal for 15 and the only trustee who voted against the three cuts to transportation, pointed out flaws in the logic behind eliminating early dismissal on Wednesdays for K through 8.

While middle and high school teachers have daily prep time, elementary school teachers, who teach their students a multitude of subjects, only have an hour every Wednesday to plan and collaborate with other teachers, Midtgaard said.

Fourth and fifth grade teachers have an additional hour each week to plan while their students are learning music and physical education.

“That’s the beauty of that Wednesday afternoon,” Midtgaard said. “It’s really a valuable time.”

On Wednesdays, the district picks up elementary school students at 1:30 p.m. and middle school students at 1:45 p.m., buses them home – some as far away as Casa De Fruta – returns to Gilroy High School at 3 p.m. and makes another round. Eliminating a round of busing on Wednesdays will save the district $45,000, Director of Transportation Darren Salo said.

The board approved a $35,000 cut that changed Rucker Elementary School to an all-day kindergarten. With kindergartners getting out of school at 1:30 p.m., an hour before the rest of the school, the district must send two rounds of buses.

The third cut set off a round of questions and proposed eliminating in-town stops, a cut that will affect fewer than 500 students, Salo said at a March 6 board meeting.

“If there’s a sidewalk to get the child to school, then we don’t provide transportation,” Salo said at the meeting.

In light of the recent boundary proposal for GHS and Christopher High School, some parents in the northwest quadrant whose children are zoned for GHS are indignant about the recent news.

“I was completely shocked to read that my three girls will have to somehow get all the way across town to attend high school when there is Christopher High that will be within walking distance,” wrote parent Kelly Moore in an e-mail.

Trustee Denise Apuzzo pointed out that high school students living in the area of Luigi Aprea Elementary would have to walk to GHS, a distance of 3.5 miles according to Google Maps.

“I want to paint a picture for the community,” she said. “Hundreds of kids now will be walking down Mantelli and Santa Teresa to get to school.”

Salo assured her that only 40 students at the high school rode the bus from the Luigi area. He will provide an updated presentation to the board at the next meeting May 1.

Transportation update:

7 p.m. Thursday

Board Room, Gilroy Unified School District Office

7810 Arroyo Circle

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