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Thursday, June 27th, 2013

St. Marys may shuttle students

Some residents disagree with recent board decision to reduce busing

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - Board of education members may soon vote on a proposal to shuttle students no longer eligible for busing from Skip Baughman Stadium to the middle and high school.
The decision on the additional service was put on hold until the state releases a final budget by Monday.
Dave Thomas and Kim Morlino, co-founders of the newly formed Citizens for the Improvement of St. Marys Schools group, met with school superintendent Shawn Brown and board members Ronda Shelby and Brian Little this week to discuss ideas that would mitigate the safety threat of reduced busing. They are unhappy with the board's recent decision to limit transportation to the state minimum, believing it puts students' safety at risk.
School board members last month approved nearly $1.5 million in cuts after the defeat of a levy in May. Students who live within two miles of the school or are in high school won't be transported.
The citizens group, which agreed the cuts are especially dangerous for students who cross the overpass on state Route 66 to the middle and high school, collected several ideas, including providing a shuttle from Skip Baughman Stadium; make other cuts to allow for full busing; return the primary and intermediate school to east and west elementaries; provide a walking path along the overpass and lower the speed limit on the overpass.
Morlino said she learned Brown and transportation director Dan Grothause had already been working on a possible shuttle program. During their meeting this week, Morlino, Thomas, Brown, Little and Shelby agreed a shuttle from the centrally located stadium would work best.
Brown said the cost of the shuttle - a district school bus - would be $22,000-$25,000, and its feasibility would depend on the state budget. If the district receives expected funding, Brown will recommend the shuttle service to board members at their next regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. July 10 in the high school auditorium.
"We're at a standstill at this point until they know the state funding for sure," Morlino said.
If the funding turns out to be less than expected, Morlino said Brown and board members will consider the option of re-evaluating the cuts and could make additional reductions to allow for the shuttle.
Brown and Morlino agreed the meeting went well.
"It was a nice opportunity to listen to their concerns and to explain where we're coming from," Brown said. "There's a lot of misconceptions out there, and this was a chance to open up the lines of communication. I think this was beneficial to both sides."
Most of the other options presented by the citizens group could not be considered due to state regulations and funding issues.
Morlino asked Brown about the school's parking lot capacity as busing reductions would increase the number of students driving to school.
Brown said he believes the lot will handle the additional vehicles. Officials will wait to see if a parking problem develops before they decide on any changes.
Brown also said he could not stagger the start of school to ease the flow of morning traffic because that would require additional staffing and thus additional funds, which are not available. However, he could authorize an early dismissal for high school drivers to allow them to leave before others come to pick up the younger students.
Although the meeting went well, Morlino, who will be running for a seat on the school board in November, said her mission - and the mission of the group - is far from completion.
"This does not mean that everything is fixed nor does it mean that everything we ... would like to see happen will come to fruition," Morlino said. "There are many times that the best intentions are stopped by local, state and federal laws, mandates, etc. So I recommend that we, as a community, take the time to look into and try to understand this from not only a parent/citizen side of things but also from the side of the (school board) with what their limitations give them."
The terms of board members Ralph Wiley, Aaron Braun and Lisa Tobin conclude this year.
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