The Juneau School Board on Tuesday approved a plan to reduce the number of school buses it uses so it won't have to spend instructional funds on transportation.
But the plan would change the operating times of five schools, and some parents at Riverbend Elementary said it would be a hardship to get their children to school later in the morning.
About a third of the school district's 5,400 students ride school buses. The district pays for busing by the vehicle. Fewer buses are needed if the district eliminates some routes within 112 miles of schools and staggers the starting and ending times of schools more than they are now.
The district said it would face $200,000 more in busing costs than the state's transportation grant would cover for next school year. The approved plan would save up to $350,000.
The School Board's decision leaves the starting times of Juneau-Douglas High School, the middle schools and Glacier Valley Elementary School the same as they are now.
But it moves Mendenhall River Community School's operating day to 30 minutes later, moves Riverbend Elementary's day to 45 minutes later, and moves the day of Auke Bay, Gastineau and Harborview elementary schools to 15 minutes later.
Riverbend Principal Carmen Katasse said she is concerned that parents who can't afford morning child care will leave their children at the school door early in the morning. The Riverbend school day would start at 9:15 a.m.
"I definitely don't want to see those babies out in the cold at 7 in the morning when school doesn't start until 9:15," she said.
Parents also are concerned that the school district's morning child-care program, RALLY, wouldn't be able to take more students at Riverbend, or that some parents couldn't afford it.
The School Board's decision assumes the district will discontinue seven bus routes affecting about 330 students districtwide. Those routes are within 112 miles of schools and may not be considered hazardous to walk, a consultant has said. The district recently set up an annual procedure for deciding which routes close to schools are unsafe to walk.
Riverbend could lose one of its bus routes. Seventy parents signed a petition to the School Board saying they wouldn't be able to get their children to school without a bus or an earlier school starting time.
"It will be a real personal and financial hardship because we work downtown," parent Nancy Barto said of herself and her husband.
But School Board member Bob Van Slyke said that if the district didn't reduce its busing costs, it would have to lay off teachers. The School Board's plan saved money equal to about seven teachers' jobs, he said, and parents also say they want small class sizes.
"If it comes down to extra buses or extra teachers, I'll opt for extra teachers," Van Slyke said.
Glacier Valley Elementary would lose both of its bus routes because they are within 112 miles of the school. In an interview, Principal Ted Wilson said the school's parent group and site council are concerned about students walking to and from school in the dark and given snowy conditions.
"Assuming the board does cut our buses, we'll be anxious to have input on the hazardous routes committee," he said.
School Board member Andi Story said she hopes the state Legislature will come through with more state funding for schools. The School Board then could look again at its busing plan, she said.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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