Archive for Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Closing plan raises busing issues

March 16, 2011

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Before making a decision to close Wakarusa Valley, the Lawrence Board of Education should investigate several factors affecting transportation:

  1. Rural students will face significantly increased travel time. Currently, research indicates that children suffer negative effects from bus rides 30 to 60 minutes in length or more (Lu and Tweeten 1973; Zars 1998; Howley, Howley and Shamblen 2001; Ramage and Howley 2005; Spence 2000, Howley 2000; Bard, Clark, and Wieland 2010; Fox 1996). These effects include fatigue, parent disengagement from school, devaluation of children’s time and reductions in academic achievement, extracurricular participation, out-of-school study time, attendance, and physical activity.

  2. Wakarusa Valley serves an area close to 80 square miles, 2.8 times larger than the region within Lawrence's city boundaries. From the physical conditions subcommittee of the USD 497 elementary task force, page 22: “Wakarusa Valley is the farthest southwest school serving the district. The geographic area served by this school includes the towns of Clinton and Stull … Given the geography of the area Wakarusa Valley serves, it would seem impracticable and not cost effective to bus students from the boundary edges to an alternative school.”

Our community has heard arguments stating that because Wakarusa Valley families chose to live in rural areas, they should accept the required lengthening of bus rides to and from school that will result from a WV closure. This argument is a fallacy. When WV families chose to live in rural Douglas County, an elementary school was available that was factored into the selection of where to raise their children. Many of these families sacrificed the convenience of town precisely because they knew an excellent school was available locally. Many WV families chose to live in the area for the school. Other families are multi-generation farm families, who built WV before it became part of USD 497.

With the closure of WV, many children that are currently bused to Wakarusa Valley will face a lasting negative influence on their schooling, even as they adjust to a new school and community. The suggestions offered below will reduce, but not eliminate, the impact of such a closure on its students. These suggestions should be examined before the decision to close WV is made, to determine the true financial cost of closure:

  1. Bus rides of 45 minutes or less for all rural students. According to a study by Theibeault, Zetler, and Wilson (1997), 90 minutes per day (i.e. 45 minutes each way) is the maximum that a student should ride a bus (Spence 2000).

  2. Maximum of 10 additional minutes per bus route for all children affected by school closure. Given the results of research described above, adding even an additional 10 minutes per bus route makes for very long rides for Lawrence’s rural children in the current WV region.

  3. Adjusted start times at LHS, South and Broken Arrow. Elementary students should never be expected to wait in a parking lot or on a bus for more time than it takes to load the bus.

  4. No elementary student shall be expected to transfer buses as part of their daily route. This is confusing for elementary students and dangerous for all students, especially if the transfer spot, Wakarusa Valley, were a closed building.

  5. Creation of a separate parking lot for buses only, either at South or Broken Arrow. No cars should be allowed in this lot while buses are loading or unloading. These parking lots are already overcrowded; the addition of 80-100 kids to Broken Arrow will make the situation worse. To minimize bus travel time and ensure the safety of the elementary children, a busing area separate from car pickup should be created.

  6. Rural buses transporting K-12 students will be monitored by someone other than the bus driver on routes longer than 30 minutes. The bus driver is responsible for safely transporting students. He/she should not also be responsible for discipline. Discipline issues which arise on school buses include bullying, fighting and weapons, sexual harassment and exposure to inappropriate language and subjects.

  7. Bus drivers will be given first aid training. All adults that are solely responsible for children for extended periods of time should have first aid training.

Roura Young is a rural Lawrence resident and a Wakarusa Valley parent.

Comments

Cogito_Ergo_Es 4 years, 2 months ago

There is definitely a lot to consider with this closure. These changes will come with a price tag, but they are necessary. It may require involvement by the city with regards to traffic pattern analysis, stop signs or lights, etc. It will require examination by the school district and First Student to see if they can make these sorts of changes to ensure the safety of our children. If they cannot or will not, what does that say about their committment to the safety and well-being of our children? Will they just wait around until someone actually gets hurt? What will that lawsuit cost them then?

sweatybutcher 4 years, 2 months ago

What a great letter! There are so many reasons to keep neighborhood schools open, and no good reasons, except for budgetary blinders, to close them. Thanks for giving the Board something to think about.

nativeson 4 years, 2 months ago

All good points about rural schools. Here is a missing fact. About 60 students now ride the bus to Wakarusa Valley from outside its district boundaries to keep it even at a minimal capacity. The fact is that this location is not sustainable.

If well-being is being considered for all 10,000 students in the district, the conclusion must be less elementary locations. Keeping all locations open will come at the expense of larger class sizes and less student/teacher interaction for all students.

GMom05 4 years, 2 months ago

Ah, true. Which is why closing Wakarusa makes the least sense! Why would you close the smallest school with the least savings? Where in the world do you think they are going to make up the 3 million dollar shortfall? Do you not see that closing Wakarusa and saving the least money will GUARANTEE you will have larger class sizes and less student/teacher interaction? They have to make up that money somewhere. It only makes sense to close Cordley or Pinckney where they will see real savings. They are going to close them in 3-5 years anyway, why put money into rebuilding them just to close them ultimately? Close one of them now and be done with it.

And when you talk about facts let's hear how many kids are bussed into Hillcrest or Cordley for ESL, hmmm? Boundaries are arbitrary and political as the wind blows apparently. When Langston and Sunflower are screaming that they haven't got room to breathe, they'll wish they hadn't rushed to close Waky. Why did Merrill state she'd never put Woodlawn on the chopping block (though they have low enrollment too) because they are the only school north of the river? Well, Waky is the only school South of Wakarusa river and K-10. What's the difference? Look how many small schools are in town, why should only the rural kids be punished? There were four schools put on Part-time status for low enrollment last year, why aren't we talking about closing any of the other three?

lisagaylesmith 4 years, 2 months ago

Good luck to you! In Baldwin our school board voted 5 to 2 to close BOTH our rural schools and send our children to town. Our superintendant recently said he would TRY to keep students' time on the bus less than an hour, one way. All the people in town that were asking the board to close our schools won't have THEIR children on the bus for 45 minutes one way.

It sounds like Lawrence board members will also choose cutting K- 5 education over deeper cuts to sports and other areas. Sad!

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