The Juneau School Board, in a split vote Tuesday, agreed to retain five bus routes for elementary schools in the Mendenhall Valley that were slated to be cut.
The routes are within a mile and half of schools. Under the school district's new policy, routes that close to schools would be dropped unless they were considered too unsafe for children to walk.
Parents said it was unsafe to allow children as young as kindergartners to walk up to a mile and a half to school. If the buses are canceled, more students would walk to school just as more parents were driving children to school, they said.
"I don't think it's fair to hold the little kindergartners to the middle school and high school standards in the district," said Pam Nicholson, a parent at Glacier Valley. "That's a long way to walk on little legs."
The district wanted to reduce the number of buses so it wouldn't have to use instructional funds to fill the gap between state bus funds and the real costs of the service. Two years ago the state stopped paying for the true costs and instead gives a lump sum based on enrollments.
Retaining the five routes will cost about $156,000, which must come from the district's $353,000 reserve, said Superintendent Peggy Cowan. The district hasn't concluded negotiating a new contract with teachers, she added.
The district, after studying the five routes this spring and summer and applying the results to a scoring form, said the routes didn't qualify as hazardous. But administrators recommended that the routes be provided from Dec. 1 through March 15 in consideration of winter conditions.
On a 5-2 vote, School Board members opted to offer the routes through the entire school year and study the routes' possible hazards in the winter. Board members Bob Van Slyke and Alan Schorr voted against the motion.
Earlier in the discussion, Schorr said it would be hard to turn down any request for a hazardous bus route if the board grants these requests because there will be snow along any route. Van Slyke said the board didn't want to spend instructional funds on busing.
A motion to follow the administration's recommendation of seasonal bus service failed on a 3-4 vote. Seasonal service would have cost about $55,000.
The routes, which serve 35 to 45 students each, are: route 14 at Riverbend Elementary, routes 20 and 21 at Mendenhall River, and routes 14 and 16 at Glacier Valley.
Parent Celeste DeRego pointed out that it's up to homeowners, not the city, to clear sidewalks in front of houses. And the city temporarily places cleared snow in berms in the center of streets. Children and motorists may both end up using bike lanes when the streets and sidewalks aren't clear of snow, she said.
"My concern is, where are the children going to be walking?" DeRego said.
Glacier Valley Principal Ted Wilson said it would hard for some students to get to school without buses, and attendance might suffer.
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