Parents feeling impact of busing cuts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 5, 2002

Students and parents are dealing with busing changes, but it has meant change in the way many go about their daily schedule.

&uot;I’ve been picking up my grandchildren all year,&uot; said one woman who was waiting for the 3 p.m. dismissal bell at Hawthorne Elementary School. &uot;Last year they were in day care, but this year, with new rules, they can’t take the bus to their day care, so I’ve been taking care of them after school.&uot;

This year, in anticipation of large budget shortfalls for the district, the school decided to push busing back to the state minimum.

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State law says all children who live more than two miles away from the school must get transportation paid for by the state. In the past, the Albert Lea district had paid for any child living more than a mile from the school they attended for elementary schoolers and 1.5 miles for middle schoolers.

&uot;We’ve calculated that about 400 kids have been affected by these changes,&uot; said Bruce Olson, the director of facilities and transportation for the district. &uot;Only 70 of those students have made a private contract with the bus company, so that means 330 are finding other means such as walking, carpooling and biking.&uot;

Private contracts are available through the bus company, but the cost for each student is $30 per month &045; a cost which many parents say is too expensive.

&uot;I think the cost is too high,&uot; said Dawn Egge, who waited for her daughter at Hawthorne. &uot;I think that maybe the schools should put money back toward transportation and not into sports.&uot;

Egge said she would much rather have the peace of mind that children are being picked up by buses rather than walking. &uot;Safety should come first. If we keep going like this, one of these days a kid is going to get hit by a car or get kidnapped or something,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s just crazy.&uot;

Olson said the district has crossing guards at some dangerous intersections around the city, but the city, which pays for them, hasn’t provided more.

According to city manager Paul Sparks, the city can’t afford to pay for more crossing guards without funding help from the district.

Because of that situation, the district has been looking for volunteers for the more dangerous areas in the city.

The effect of the busing changes has been widespread, and Olson says traffic congestion has increased visibly around many schools. That increase is due to many parents picking up their children as well as parents walking their children home each day.

Many parents feel this problem is reason enough to pass a school funding referendum. The district will ask voters to approve extra funding during a referendum Nov. 5.

One woman at Hawthorne, who wished to remain anonymous, said she quit her job because of the busing changes. &uot;My children used to go to daycare,&uot; she said. &uot;But when you have four kids and have to pay for their busing, that gets expensive. So I quit my job and I am taking care of them each day&uot;

She added, &uot;I’m very upset about this policy change. &uot;It just means that we have to pass this referendum.&uot;