Empire editorial: Retain disputed bus routes for safety

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2005

When the Juneau School District proposed cutting several short school bus routes last year, the idea was to save money. The state had changed its transportation funding formula, and the district had to dip into instructional funds to pay for buses. It decided to cut service to some students living within 1.5 miles of school on routes that were not considered hazardous walks.

The routes continued during the past year but could be cut by fall. And now it turns out the district won't save any money on them because they use buses that already serve students living farther from school. Parents have appealed the decision to cut three such routes, and the School Board will meet June 21 to make a decision. The board should side with safety.

In this case, parents know best. They know where their children walk and whether they feel comfortable about it. In places, the routes require grade-school children to traverse roads with no sidewalks. Any buffer that an adjacent ditch may offer in September may be gone in February, when snow piles up. Dark winter mornings, a lack of sidewalks and potential deep snowfall can add up to an unacceptable risk no matter how short the walk.

The district evaluated the routes in March and again found them to lack sufficient hazards to be retained. It may have been a good-faith effort, but parents are right to point out that one period in March doesn't indicate conditions over an entire winter. One storm, such as the one that closed schools briefly last winter, can make an immediate difference. And it was not just the no-school days on which that storm blotted out sidewalk access.

The district has nothing to lose by retaining the appealed routes next school year. It should be an easy decision.

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