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USD 410 votes down in-town busing

News editor

USD 410 Board of Education heard a request from a group of parents to restore the in-town bus route that was cut in 2010, but ultimately the board decided to seek other solutions to the parents’ concerns.

The town route was eliminated before the start of the 2010-11 academic year as part of sweeping budget cuts the district made in the past few years because of declining enrollment and decreased funding from the state.

Superintendent Steve Noble said the parents had proposed funding the bus route themselves. He said the proposal was sincere, but he didn’t think it would be sustainable, and it could open a can of worms for other special interests. Noble requested the board make a philosophical decision about whether USD 410 should be a “town route” district for the long term.

Noble and the parents identified two areas that would be well served by a bus route: west of Ash Street and south of D Street. Both streets are busy and can present a hazard for students walking home. The parents determined 103 children who will likely be Hillsboro Elementary School students in 2012-13 live in the areas under consideration. That is approximately 40 percent of the HES enrollment.

Board member Joe Sechrist asked what school districts in similarly sized towns, such as Marion, Haven, and Halstead, do. Noble said neither Haven nor Marion has an in-town bus route; he didn’t know about Halstead.

Noble reviewed the district’s Safe Routes to Schools grant application. If awarded, the school district and city would partner to improve sidewalks along major corridors for students walking to school, but getting the grant is not a sure thing.

Board of Education President Eddie Weber said he drove through the line to pick up kids at HES, and said it took a very short wait, although it wasn’t raining. One of the parents said the wait in line was only a fraction of the time required to pick up children after school — parents have to take off work, leave early enough to get to the school on time, and drive the children home, all before returning to work — and that the time requirement is much less worrisome than the extra car traffic creating a safety issue.

HES Principal Evan Yoder said he could work with parents to reduce congestion around the school and promote carpooling, reducing the amount of traffic. He said there have been three student-car accidents around the school in his time there, and any more would be too many.

He said the school could consider staggering release times so there aren’t as many cars at the school at once, perhaps releasing kindergarten and first and second grades 10 minutes before the older grades. Routing exiting traffic south on Kennedy Street could also reduce the risk of accidents with the many students who walk west on A Street.

Board member Rod Koons said he didn’t think the district needed to reinstate the town route. He said he recognized the parents’ safety concerns, but there is a danger every time a child crosses any street, whether they’re leaving school, church, or the grocery store. He recommended parents and administrators look at ways to improve traffic during pickup times, including at Hillsboro Middle School.

The board voted unanimously to continue without an in-town bus route.

Continuing on the bus route topic, Noble recommended eliminating in-town busing for Head Start and pre-school. The district currently buses pre-schoolers door-to-door, with the bus running four times per day.

He said the bus route is a net expense of $25,000. Eliminating the route would also be consistent with the board’s policy on in-town bus route for older students and could lead to increased contact between parents and the pre-school teachers. The board voted unanimously to cut the pre-school bus route in town.

The savings from the pre-school bus route were an important part of the board’s decision then to increase the Head Start family advocate from a halftime to a full-time work schedule, allowing the family advocate to work with more families.

The board also voted to reinstate art classes at HES, cut in earlier budget cycles. Noble said restoring art was the biggest request from the HES teachers, as well as several families.

In other business:

  • Noble told the board that the district has an opportunity to purchase an old greenhouse from Aunt Bee’s in Marion, because the business is moving. The asking price is $8,000, he said. He wanted to wait to make a decision about buying it until he could check whether the district could fund it with a $25,000 Monsanto grand the district has applied for. A greenhouse could be used in agriculture and planned bioscience classes.
  • Band teacher Bruce Major received authorization to dispose of old band instruments that are in too bad of condition to use or be worth repairing. He will attempt to sell the instruments for parts. Any money received for the instruments will be put into a fund for band equipment.
  • Middle school cross-country will be added for the 2012-13 school year, on the conditions that it doesn’t require any extra personnel or transportation cost. Noble said middle school students could practice with the high school team, and there are five high school meets that also have middle school races.
  • The board met in closed session for 33 minutes to discuss personnel issues. On return to open session, the board accepted the retirement of Ken Pankratz as a bus driver and custodian, effective June 30; returning Tracy Boldt from teaching kindergarten half time to full time; extending Brandi Hendrix’s contract as Technology Excellence in Education Network director through June 30, 2014; and offering supplemental contracts to teachers for the 2012-13 academic year.
  • The board met in closed session to discuss contract negotiations with teachers.
  • The district will have a year-end celebration for staff, the board, and family members at 3:30 p.m. May 22. The event will include a pool party and hot dog cookout.

The next board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 11.

Last modified May 17, 2012

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