Shawnee Here's one way for school districts to avoid paying some of the increasingly higher fuel costs for transporting students: Get rid of the buses and have the children walk to school under adult supervision.
The Shawnee City Council on Monday instructed city staff to ask the state for financial help in starting a "walking school bus" initiative at two elementary schools during the 2007-08 school year.
Popular in England and Australia, such programs involve a group of children who walk to school together along designated safe routes while accompanied by one or more adults. The "bus" meets every school morning at a prearranged time and place and makes stops along the way to pick up students.
The virtual buses are designed to encourage exercise among the children and reduce the amount of traffic around schools. They also help parents feel more comfortable about allowing their children to walk to school.
According to city staff, Shawnee would be the first to try it in Kansas, assuming the Kansas Department of Transportation agrees to help defray the program's $64,000 cost.
What about Lawrence?
Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman said the "walking school bus" idea had never been addressed formally in the school district, but the health benefits for students could be something worth investigating.
Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman said the idea had never been addressed formally in the school district, but he said students in some neighborhoods did walk to school in groups - specifically at elementary schools, where the walks are typically shorter.
"It's interesting," Weseman said.
Although the idea may not save school districts money - buses would still have to run, Weseman predicted - the health benefits could be something to look into, he said.
"I'm always open for ideas," Weseman said.
A similar program was started at St. Peter's School in Kansas City, Mo.
Sharon Mohler, the parent coordinator at St. Peter's, said the number of students participating in the walking school bus program had almost doubled, going from 44 students in the fall to 84 this spring.
"It's really a no-brainer when you see how well this program works," she said. "You think, 'Why aren't more people doing this?'"
Mohler said the school now was looking for a new funding source. She said parents want to do the program again next year, but the grant that paid for it was only a one-shot deal.
Shawnee officials want to start the program at two schools that have many students living within a half-mile radius and serious traffic congestion in the area.
City officials said they wouldn't know until September if the state is willing to help.
The Department of Transportation hasn't yet said how it plans to spend its share of $100 million in federal funding for the Safe Routes to School program, designed to encourage children to walk or ride their bikes to school. But state officials encouraged Shawnee to apply after hearing a presentation on the walking school bus.
The state could fund up to 80 percent of the program's price tag, city staff said, leaving local officials to find room in their budget for $12,800.
Officials said the money would go to hire three crossing guards to serve as the adult leaders for the virtual buses during the one-year pilot program. Staff members said they preferred full-time workers, as opposed to volunteers, because the program was so new and unfamiliar.