Juneau School Board members charged with recommending changes in bus service to save money are leaning toward a plan that might discontinue seven routes, and would change the starting and ending times of five elementary schools.
Alan Schorr and Rhonda Befort, two of three members of the Program Evaluation Committee, support what's called Scenario F, said Schorr, the committee's chairman, at a meeting Wednesday. It's one of many options consultant Zach Hanna has laid out for the School Board.
The board wants to cut about $250,000 in busing costs next school year so it doesn't have to use any instructional funds for transportation. The consultant's options included cutting some routes within 112 miles of schools, and staggering the starting and ending times of schools more than they are now, so fewer buses would be needed. The district pays for busing by the vehicle.
The committee wants to submit its recommendations to the full School Board by early March, so the decision can be factored into preparations for next school year's budget.
The consultant, Hanna, also examined the feasibility of putting elementary and middle school students on the same buses, or middle and high school students on the same buses.
But there isn't enough room on the buses to combine elementary and middle school students, Hanna said in a report. And combining middle and high school students would add buses, not reduce them, he said.
Scenario F would leave the starting times of Juneau-Douglas High School, the middle schools and Glacier Valley Elementary School the same as they are now. But it would move Mendenhall River Community School's school day to 30 minutes later, move Riverbend Elementary's day to 45 minutes later, and move the day of Auke Bay, Gastineau and Harborview elementary schools to 15 minutes later.
Riverbend Principal Carmen Katasse said moving the school's starting time from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. was "completely opposite" what the site council wanted. The school is concerned that parents on the way to work will drop off their children early, long before the school doors open.
"With kids starting that late, they could potentially be standing outside for an hour," Katasse said. "... Because we're a high-poverty school, we have a lot of families that can't afford that morning child care."
At the request of committee member Andi Story, the district will gather comments from school officials and site councils about one other option, called H. That plan would set the JDHS school day at 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., change the middle schools' day to 9:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., and set all the elementary schools at 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Story said the advantage of that plan is it starts the high school day an hour later than the current day. Some research shows that teenagers are more alert later in the morning.
"I think kids will be ready to learn more at the high school level," Story said.
She conceded that moving Auke Bay's starting time from 9 to 8 a.m. would mean some children out the road would have to get up early in the morning to catch the bus. And Schorr was concerned about the late end of the middle school day. If students stay after school for activities, they might not get home until 6 p.m., he said.
Option H also might discontinue seven bus routes affecting about 330 students.
The district is devising policies for bus service, one of which will be to set a minimum distance children must live from school to be eligible for service. The board's Policy Committee has recommended a threshold of 112 miles, except for routes that are hazardous for children to walk. Those hazardous routes have yet to be decided, but the consultant suggested that seven of nine routes close to schools wouldn't be judged unsafe.
Two of the seven routes at risk are the only routes offered at Glacier Valley school in the Mendenhall Valley. They carry about 55 to 80 kids a day.
Denise Guizio, a parent on the school's site council, said the district should determine which routes are hazardous before it relies on busing changes to help balance the budget. The site council intends to walk the routes on Feb. 16 to prepare its case that they are unsafe.
Parents are concerned about slippery or unplowed sidewalks in winter, the difficulty of drivers seeing children over snow berms, as well as bears and bullies, Guizio said. It will be inconvenient for some parents to drive their children to and from school, she added.
"There's no way I would let my children walk," she said.
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.
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