JOHNSONBURG – Changes to the bus routes in the Johnsonburg Area School District have forced many parents to question their children's safety.
A large group of concerned parents attended Thursday night's school board meeting looking for answers to the change.
"I'll try to explain as simply as possible how we got from point A to point B," said board secretary Lisa Mahoney. "State auditors come into the school and they do a performance review-- our last one was conducted in 2009-- at that time it was brought to our attention that we were not following the guidelines that the state uses for dispensing subsidy.
"At that point they informed us that our transportation system was not working properly, not in the eyes of the public, but in the eyes of the state."
Mahoney noted guidelines on how the district can maximize the state's reimbursement.
Some of these guidelines, for instance, that buses should travel a minimum of about 70 miles a day; buses should run more miles with students than without; and that the buses should be filled to capacity; have caused many parents to deem these new routes unsafe.
"There are some concerns that we knew were going to come up that I would like to address," Mahoney said. "The bus rides are certainly longer. You cannot add more miles and not have their be a longer length. The longest time a student is on the bus is approximately 50 minutes."
According to Mahoney, in the afternoon 60 percent of students are dropped off within the first 15 minutes of the route.
"The routes are designed to drop off where the most students are located and then we travel to the outer areas," Mahoney said. "We know that the seating capacity is a concern. We can guarantee you that the buses don't have more students than seats. The routes were developed to maximize the seating capacity and then again to align with the state formula."
With these new changes, the school district's reimbursement has increased to 75 percent from last year's 57 percent. This change is expected to bring in up to $100,000 in additional revenue.
"The mileage and the capacities are more in line with the state formula," Mahoney said. "As far as the state is concerned, that is what makes a more efficient system."
According to board member Richard Wolfe, the transportation budgets costs the district about $460,000 annually and gets back about $240,000.
"That's money coming back into the district," Wolfe said. "Before we had to take the money out of our fund equity that is what funds all of this.
"I sat in when the state auditors were here and our system is broken for transportation and that's one reason why we are trying to fix it and trying to get more money back from the state to provide this transportation. It's the school district, but it's also a business and you try to run your business as clean as you can. We try to get as much money back as we can without raising taxes."
Some of the new bus routes are designed to travel down Rasselas Road and to avoid roads like Meffert's Run and Route 219 as much as possible.
"Do you really think that is a safe hill [Rasselas] to go up and down? Since a bus has not traveled down with students on it in the last 15 years," asked concerned parent Jackie Martonik. "That road is very bad-- trucks get jackknifed on it and most of the people who live up there do not even attempt to leave their house until 10 or 11 [a.m.] when the roads are taken care of and thawed. We have all of those kids going down that hill now-- it's pretty wicked."
To which, vice president Richard Warmbrodt replied, "That's something we can look into, thankfully it's not winter yet."
Parent Richard Quickel expressed his concern after hearing stories of children sitting on the laps of other students from overcrowding on the bus.
"There is only one bus driver to watch 70 kids," Quickel said.
"Your teachers in the school have between 20-26 per class. The bus driver's main concern is to keep his eyes on the road. How can we keep the child safe when they are not sitting in their seat?"
Pick up a copy of the Wednesday, September 14, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.