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Paynesville Press - August 28, 2002

Nearby students must walk to PAES

By Michael Jacobson

Students who live within the center of town will have to walk to Paynesville Area Elementary School this year, as the school district is not providing busing to elementary students who live within the triangular area formed by highways 23, 55, and 124.

Requiring students who live near the elementary school to walk is part of the district's effort to reduce its transportation costs. In this case, the goal is to have the buses so full that there is not room to pick up the elementary school students who live in the affected areas, said superintendent Howard Caldwell.

"We're hoping that the buses will be filled by the time they enter this area," he explained.

In past years, school buses have made at least a half dozen stops for elementary students in the affected area, said Phyllis Nielson, owner of Paynesville Motor and Transfer, the district's transportation contractor.

The area was identified because students within this triangular region do not have to cross a major highway to get to school, making it safer for them to have to walk. Safety remains an utmost concern, said Caldwell.

The only exception to the new walking zone - Pumpkin Patch Daycare - is located on Highway 124, and students from there would have to walk next to a busy road to get to school. "We're only doing it there because kids would have to walk on Highway 124," said Nielson, who noted that from the Pumpkin Patch students have neither a sidewalk nor a back alley to take to school.

City students who do not live within the triangle formed by these highways will still be picked up by buses, in the same places as previous years. Pick-up spots include by the trailer court on Minnie Street; by the Xcel Energy building on the corner of James Street and Lake Avenue; by SuperValu on the corner of James Street and River Street; at Grace United Methodist Church; and on the north end of Burr Street. In addition, there are stops on the west end of town, by South Street, and in the Chladek Addition.

Middle and high school students from the Chladek Addition are also required to walk to their respective school building.

For middle and high school students in the center of town, while their little brother or sister will have to walk, they can still catch a ride to the middle or high school. There will be two pick-up spots for middle and high school students in the center of town: at the west corner of the elementary school (at the intersection of Stearns Avenue and Mill Street) and at the north parking lot at St. Louis Catholic Church (the one bordering Minnesota Street).

These pick-up spots are needed for safety, to get middle and high school students safely across Highway 55. Caldwell said the pick-ups are possible because the respective buses will be dropping off some students at the elementary school before heading to the middle/high school.

At one time during the budget cut proposals last winter, cutting transportation to all students who live within two miles of their school building was discussed. This idea failed, but the district has continued to work on reducing bus routes to save in transportation costs.

This year, the district will have 14 bus routes, down from 15, said Nielson. That reduction, which was approved as part of the budget cuts last winter, should save the district $7,500 in 2002-03.

"At this point, the best we could do was one route reduction," said Caldwell. "We had hoped for more."

The district also did receive more than 100 transportation waivers from students who voluntarily agreed to be taken from the bus rolls.

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