Archive for Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Shawnee steps behind ‘walking school bus’

Program encourages student fitness, aims to reduce traffic congestion near schools

May 24, 2006


— 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.


lunacydetector 12 years, 1 month ago

man, $64,000 for an invisible bus seems extreme. imagination must be expensive these days. i wonder how much a real bus costs? couldn't they let the school bus drivers become the invisible school bus drivers who walk the kids to school instead of driving? if lawrence wasn't so spread out, this invisible school bus system might work. i wonder how many riders would ride a T bus if IT was invisible? hmmmm.....

LongGoneFromLarryville 12 years, 1 month ago

Laugh if you will, but if the feds are doling out $100M, I'm all for taking some of my money back. Thus, I've applied for the position of virtual mechanic for this new transportation system. Although I have absolutely no training in this field, I'm quite confident that nobody could do a better job than I will.

Since I have a soft spot in my heart for the kids of Lawrence, I'm reducing my salary demands to a quite-reasonable $25,000 / school year... BUT I do insist on overtime for the snowy days where the virtual buses need to have their cute little virtual tire chains installed.

kolisach 12 years, 1 month ago

There is no price too expensive for the health and safety of our children.

Way to go Lawrence!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 1 month ago

"man, $64,000 for an invisible bus seems extreme."

More vacuousness from luny.

I'm sure that would be a lot lower if the adult escorts or other adults coordinating this weren't paid. All that would be required would be a few volunteers.

Will you be the first, luny?

Fatty_McButterpants 12 years, 1 month ago

"There is no price too expensive for the health and safety of our children." - Kolsich

Wanna bet??

pundit 12 years, 1 month ago

Heck yes they need the $64 K for the virtual bus.

My bill to the school district for fuel, tires, cleaning services, taxes, permits, etc for that bus adds up to at least $60K. Yes, I will others let ride for free.

oldvet 12 years, 1 month ago

I wonder if I could bid on the maintenance contract for these invisible busses!!!

GardenMomma 12 years, 1 month ago

The Lawrence school district does not have a bus system. It rents the buses it uses when it needs them. The only thing this virtual bus will do is help eliminate the congestion caused by parents dropping off and picking up their kids at the schools. People who live within 1 to 1 1/2 miles of the school could easily walk to school in a half an hour, any farther out than that and motorized (or biking) transportation is really needed, unless kids (and the parents driving the virtual bus) want to leave at 7 a.m. for a 45 minute or an hour long walk.

My kids walk to school everyday unless it is a very bad thunderstorm or it is below 15 degrees.

bugmenot 12 years, 1 month ago

It's not Lawrence that's thinking of doing this, it's Shawnee. At least that's what I read in the article.

Also, the $64,000 is probably to hire people to walk with the kids and for insurance. Just a guess.

mom_of_three 12 years, 1 month ago

Some parents drive their kids to school because of the cost of the bus, safety of the kids who would walk alone, and knowledge that your kids arrived safely. We live 1/2 mile from school, and she is either driven to school or rides her bike. She sometimes gets a ride home or walks. She isn't lazy at all. These days, as a parent, you worry who is lurking around the corner. The virtual bus could eliminate the worry of your child walking alone.
My other child is driven to the junior high and takes the bus home because there isn't a route to walk from South from our neighborhood.

Centrist 12 years, 1 month ago

How about parents get off their butts and walk their kids to school? Just a thought ...

Or even better ... have designated "school bus stops". That's what we had overseas. You would have to get yourself to the "stop" and then everyone would get on the bus. It would save fuel and all the kids are picked up at the same stop.


Centrist 12 years, 1 month ago

And the kids wouldn't be picked up in front of their homes either. That would help with "privacy" ..

mom_of_three 12 years, 1 month ago

Since most parents work, such as myself, I don't have time to walk my child to school, which is why my husband, myself, or the neighbor drives them. My child doesn't qualify to take the bus to elementary school (not far enough away), but she will take the bus to junior high. And they do have bus stops. The kids meet on the corner.
I think this is virtual bus would make parents feel better about letting their kids walk to and from school, with the supervision provided. It would also keep the drop off points at the schools from being so congested. It gets ridiculous at some schools, and blocks traffic around the block.

Christine Pennewell Davis 12 years, 1 month ago

hey reality you are nuts alot has changed and I for one will not let my child walk unsupervised at least not in elem. school you should really look up crime stats

whitetower 12 years, 1 month ago

The cost is easily justifiable considering wages, insurance and such that goes into having full time employees for a year; the cost even seems a little low.

I wonder though, where the money that would have been spent on fuel, wages and bus maintenance will be redirected to.

Overall, I believe it is a good idea simply to get kids in the habit of walking and getting the exercise. I could use that program on my way to work in the morning but I, also, am the product of lazy-fast food eating (though never McDonald's)-sit in my cubicle finding ways not to do something America where we can't survive 3 days without electricity.

That being said, perhaps we can effect a change in our children, who may despise us later for who we are, to become a real working class.

Eagle_aye 12 years, 1 month ago

I think they should walk FIFTEEN miles in the snow, uphill both to and from school, with no shoes, and shovel the driveway to the school for the teachers.

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