Changes for school buses could affect many families

Forum scheduled for Tuesday at Dzantik'i Heeni

Posted: Sunday, January 11, 2004

The Juneau School Board is gathering public opinion on proposals to save money by dropping some school bus routes and changing school hours.

A forum will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.

The Juneau School District hopes to cut $286,000 from next school year's busing costs. That's the amount that comes from the district's general fund, which pays for instruction, to supplement state funding of school buses.

"I think now is the appropriate time for people to express their concerns in this regard, because we are going into the budget process and we are going to have to make decisions soon," said School Board member Bob Van Slyke.

The state no longer reimburses school districts for their actual busing costs. Starting this school year, the state gives districts grants based on their enrollments.

With the potential of higher rates from the bus contractor and declining enrollments, Juneau will have to close a gap in transportation costs next school year, consultant Zach Hanna has told the School Board.

His report recommended a mix of reducing the number of bus routes and staggering the starting times of schools so that fewer buses are needed.

The district pays its bus contractor by the number of buses it uses, not by the number of routes. Shifting some school starting times by as little as 15 minutes could allow fewer buses to be used, Hanna said in his report.

One scenario has three schools starting at 8 a.m., three at 8:30 and three at 9:15. Another scenario would start five schools at 8, three at 8:45, and Juneau-Douglas High School at 9:45. A third plan shows two schools starting at 8, three at 8:30 and four at 9:15. Schools now start between 7:30 and 9.

Starting JDHS at 9:45, instead of 7:30, and ending the school day correspondingly later "would have significant implications for high school kids," School Board member Alan Schorr said.

The later day would affect students who work after school or participate in sports and other activities. On the other hand, some research shows that it's better for high school students to get more sleep and start the school day later, he said.

The district also would need fewer buses if it discontinued some bus routes for children who live within a mile and a half of school and don't face hazardous walking conditions, the report said. Hanna suggested that seven current bus routes, collectively carrying 330 students, probably wouldn't meet a threshold for hazardous routes.

The district is gathering comment on its criteria for deciding when walking conditions are so unsafe that buses should be provided even if children live near a school.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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