The Juneau School District may drop five bus routes next school year that collectively carry roughly 200 students and cost about $200,000.
After an initial review, based on observations taken March 4, none of the routes met the threshold for having bus service next year.
If a district panel recommends cutting the routes, the Juneau School Board is likely to hear appeals from parents like Kris Coffee.
She will have a daughter in kindergarten next year at Mendenhall River Community School, and said she can't believe the district would expect her 33-pound, 39-inch child to walk up to a mile in a maze of side streets to get to school in Alaska's winter.
The district would like to put as much of its budget into instruction as possible. It could hire three or four teachers for the cost of the routes.
But, Mendenhall River parent Sara Pierce said, "it will not matter one bit what we've got at the school if (the children) can't get there safely."
The routes operate entirely within a mile and a half of an elementary school. The district offers bus service to such routes only if it would be hazardous for children to walk instead.
Routes at risk for Juneau School District
Glacier Valley E.S. Route 16: Valley Boulevard, Valley and Kiowa Drive, Diane Road to Kimberly Street.
Glacier Valley E.S. Route 14: Thunder Mountain Road, Grant Street, Spruce Lane, El Camino Street and McGinnis Drive.
Mendenhall River Community School Route 20: Aspen Avenue, Mendenhall Boulevard to Taku Boulevard.
Mendenhall River Community School Route 21: Stephen Richards Drive, Riverside Drive, Northland Street to Julep Street.
Riverbend E.S. Route 14: Riverside Drive from Killewich to the school.
Members of the district's Hazardous Transportation Committee decided Thursday they need to do more research about the types of vehicles that travel along the routes.
The committee scored the routes by a number of criteria, such as traffic volume, the presence of walkways, traffic signs, and visual and physical obstructions, including snow berms.
Routes receive more points toward a hazardous designation if at least 5 percent of the traffic is commercial.
The panel observed the routes in the half hour before school starts, and the mix of traffic might be different in the afternoon, said member Michael Scott, the city's streets superintendent.
The panel's criteria - set by the School Board and based on other Alaska urban districts - didn't fully meet the concerns of parents and principals at Thursday's meeting.
Riverbend parent John Lohrey said the district should award hazard points for the number of side streets that walking students must cross. His children would have to cross six streets.
Children don't watch for traffic turning off larger streets onto side streets, Lohrey said. And they wouldn't be able to see some of that traffic on days when large snow berms fill the middle of Riverside Drive, he added.
Epperson agreed it should be a consideration.
Riverbend Principal Carmen Katasse said the study should have been done in January, not March.
In January, "it was not a safe walking area for our children," she said, referring to darkness and snow berms.
It also became clear there are some inherent problems with the method of deciding hazardous routes. The committee reviewed the safety of walking the bus route, not the numerous routes that children, walking from their separate homes, might really use to get to school.
The committee also conceded that some routes would be hazardous on heavy snow days. But the district's contractor doesn't have spare buses to use only on those days. The district could offer bus service only in the winter, but it wouldn't save much money, Epperson said.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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