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Younger and older kids on same buses?

Juneau school district ponders other ways to save on busing costs

Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2004

To save money, Juneau School District officials are considering placing middle school students on the same buses with elementary students or high school students.

The different school levels now ride on separate buses. But a bus from Douglas, for example, could drop off elementary students at Gastineau and take middle-schoolers to Dzantik'i Heeni.

Juneau School Board member Bob Van Slyke suggested the idea Wednesday at a meeting of the board's Policy Committee. The district will ask its busing consultant, Zach Hanna, to see if fewer buses would be needed under that proposal.

Parents will be concerned about putting younger children on buses with older children, board members said. The district will need to instruct students about good behavior and tell them they will lose the privilege of riding a bus if they misbehave, Van Slyke said.

"It's worth exploring," board member Alan Schorr said, and it could have less impact on schools than other proposals.

The district is looking for ways to cut about $286,000 from its busing costs of about $2 million next school year so it doesn't have to use instructional funds to supplement a state busing grant.

Because the district pays busing contractor Laidlaw by the vehicle, the district wants to use fewer buses. It has been considering cutting some routes within walking distance of schools, and staggering schools' starting times and ending times more than they are now.

The board's Program Evaluation Committee, which has been looking at the effects of changing the school day, also will send more options to Hanna for analysis.

The committee is unlikely to recommend the board adopt starting times for schools as late as 9:45 or 10:15 a.m., which were included in some of Hanna's options.

The later school day would have too much of an impact on students who work, have internships, take care of younger siblings, play sports or engage in other after-school activities, the public told district officials Tuesday at a forum at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.

On the other hand, starting high school later than the current 8 a.m. could help students academically because they'd be more alert, studies show.

The district will ask Hanna to review bus savings if the high school started at 8:30 and the middle schools at 9:15. The district wants to hear from Juneau-Douglas High School about the effects of an 8:30 start, and it wants to survey students about their preferences in starting times and what they do after school.

A survey of 78 staff members at JDHS found that 35 prefer a starting time of 8 a.m., 34 prefer 9 a.m. and nine support 9:45 a.m. It was largely a contest between supporting after-school activities and having alert students in the morning.

The district also will look into parents' suggestions that high school students take city buses to school. It costs the district about $5 per regular-education student per day to use school buses. But the city buses sell monthly passes, with unlimited rides, to youths 18 and under for $10.

Capital Transit sold 540 youth passes in December and could handle more students, said its manager, John Kern. But the system doesn't have the capacity to handle all of the high school students who now ride school buses, he said. They number 425 to 560, Hanna said in a report.

School districts also must come up with rules for establishing bus routes because the state intends to repeal its own rules.

The Policy Committee will likely recommend to the full board that bus routes within 1 1/2 miles of a school be discontinued unless it would be unsafe for students to walk to school. Seven routes carrying a combined 330 students could be dropped, Hanna has suggested.

The Policy Committee said district guidelines for deciding when a route is unsafe to walk should not make exceptions for periods of cold and bad weather, Superintendent Peggy Cowan said. But the district will consider whether walkways should be considered unsafe because they aren't adequately cleared of snow and ice.

The Policy Committee also supports offering bus service if at least eight students qualify for a route. Other large districts are moving to a threshold of 15 students, Cowan said.

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



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