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|Paynesville Press - Sept. 03, 2003|
School sets new transportation fee
Students wanting bus service to school - but ineligible to ride the bus because they live too close to school - can now have a bus stop, if they meet certain qualifications and pay a new transportation fee, approved by the school board last week.|
According to the school district's transportation policy, approved in May 2003, "the school school district will provide transportation for all resident elementary students who reside one mile or more from the elementary school and/or are residing outside of the triangular perimeter bordered by Highways 23, 55, and 124, due to hazardous conditions."
In other words, elementary students who live in the heart of the city, in the triangular area formed by Highways 23, 55, and 124 must either walk to school or have their own transportation. They are not eligible to ride the bus.
Middle and high school students must reside two miles away from their school to get transportation or reside outside the area bordered by Highways 23 and 55, according to the district transportation policy.
The policy also allows the school board to provide transportation for any student when the board deems it necessary. For years, the district has been providing bus service to the Punkin Patch Family Daycare and Preschool, first when it was located on Mill Street and lately from its location on Lake Avenue (Highway 124).
But this year, because Lake Avenue now has sidewalks, the district is no longer going to provide free bus transportation. Punkin Patch owners Lee and Barb Lund attended the last two school board meetings and met with district administrators to make their case that it is not safe to walk from their facility to the elementary school and that the district should continue to provide bus service.
Even with the new sidewalks - which won't necessarily be shoveled by the time students will need to walk to school, said Lee Lund - students from the Punkin Patch will need to cross four streets, including Mill Street twice - to get to the elementary school following the sidewalks. This is not ideal for safety, he said, especially with drivers not being good at stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks.
The school district is looking at providing school patrol at more corners surrounding the school district. Traditionally, the school patrol has stopped traffic at four intersections on the north and west sides of the elementary school: at the intersections of Washburne Avenue and Mill Street; of Augusta Avenue and Mill Street; of Stearns Avenue and Mill Street; and of Stearns Avenue and Minnesota Street.
This year, the school patrol will also try to have members at the intersections on the south end of the school property: at the intersection of Washburne Avenue and West Main Street and of Stearns Avenue and West Main Street. They also may try to have members at the intersection of Mill Street and Lake Avenue, which would aid students walking from the Punkin Patch.
According to the district policy, "in the discretion of the school district, transportation along regular school bus lines may also be provided, where space is available, to any person where such use of a bus does not interfere with the transportation of students."
The cost, according to the policy, "must be paid by those individuals using these services, or some third-party payer."
"We're willing to pay," said Lund.
The board set the transportation fee at $50 per bus stop per month. This includes two stops per day (morning and afternoon). But any stop must be on a bus route and there must be enough space for the additional students.
"It's kind of messy," said superintendent Howard Caldwell. "I'd rather not do it, but we can do it."
Potential bus stops will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, added Caldwell. The stop must be on a bus route, and there must be enough available seating for the added passengers.
For the Punkin Patch, having a bus stop is no problem in the afternoon, since the buses start at the elementary school and half of the buses drive past the daycare facility on Lake Avenue on their way to the middle/high school via Highway 55. (The other half use Highway 23.) An additional stop - even for 15 students - is possible.
But in the morning, the only buses that drive past the Punkin Patch go past before 7 a.m., so the district was unable to provide morning transportation for five students. (With only one stop per day, the monthly transportation fee would be only $25 per month.)
This did not satisfy Lee Lund, who asked about other options and asked the board, "Would you want me transporting your kids?" To which several members immediately replied yes. Failing to provide transportation was irresponsible of the board, Lund added later.
In recent years, the school district has been trying to cut costs and maximize efficiency in transportation. The district used to be able to levy for hazardous transportation, but this ended eight years ago when the transportation funds were rolled into the foundation aid by the Legislature, said board chairman Pat Flanders.
So, where in the past, the district could be liberal in providing bus transportation, in recent years, the district has emphasized efficiency, especially the elimination of bus routes where possible, as a cost-saving measure.
At one point during the budget cut processes a couple years ago, the school district considered offering transportation only on a strict one-mile radius from the elementary school and a two-mile radius from the middle and high schools. This proved problematic, as some homes would have been eligible to have their children transported to one school but not the other.
Instead, the district opted to create the no-transportation zones, since crossing Highways 23, 55, or 124 was so hazardous.
For the Punkin Patch, this means that if their facility were on the other side of Lake Avenue, where students would actually have to cross the road instead of walking alongside it on the new sidewalks, the district would still provide free bus transportation in the mornings and in the afternoons.
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