Yellow school buses will continue to churn through town this fall in the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, but not for everyone.
Monday’s school board meeting was held to review and approve a plan addressing busing services. The meeting was standing room only with many concerned, angry parents standing five to six people deep into the lobby waiting to hear which proposed plan the board would adopt for the fall.
“Listening to community concerns, we believe transporting students who live in remote areas is the priority need,” said President Susan E. Scott.
Trustees unanimously voted to provide temporary bus service to accommodate approximately 2,200 students who live in geographically remote areas during the first semester of school from August 13 until December 21, 2012.
The district was forced to cut home-to-school busing last February due to state budget cuts. Busing for children who qualify for special education will not be affected by Monday’s decision.
Multiple plans were presented to the board this evening and trustees chose the one that could benefit the most children, especially those considered to be at-risk by being forced to walk or ride bikes to school.
“I am frightened for these children. Lake Elsinore has many underdeveloped roads. I hope you can find a way to transport all children,” said Lisa Towery, a labor representative for the California School Employees Association.
The funds required to cover the limited fall bus schedule is close to $350,000. The monies are being reallocated from a vacancy in the assistant superintendent of student support services position that will remain unfilled and by restructuring a copier and printer lease agreement.
In a staff presentation, it was estimated that close to 2,070 students could be served using 12 bus drivers and 12 clean-burning CNG buses on an interim basis.
Board members approved the staff’s first proposal with one change. Trustees approved the plan with additional routes to the Clinton Keith area adding close to 130 more students. The vote was 3-0 (Board members Crippen and Thomas were absent).
Stasyi Barth, a parent with two children in the district, is upset her children will not have busing.
“I am very upset. This is a result of fiscal irresponsibility and illegal immigration,” said Barth. “This is an example of illegal immigration impacting the students whose parents pay taxes.”
Sharon Almada has been paying $600 a year for her two children to ride the bus. “The recession is not over so I am thrilled my children will be on the bus this year,” she said.
Almada said the board did a good job weighing its decision this evening, but thinks the number of families qualifying for free or reduced bus services is too high at 57 percent.
“The school board seemed more concerned today than in the past,” said Melissa Howell whose child qualifies for busing. “Doctor Kimberly seemed passionate this evening.”
Bus passes will soon be on sale for one semester at the current price of $175 per semester, without any increase to the existing fee. If ridership exceeds bus capacity, a waiting list would be created.
A communication plan to prepare new bus stop and route maps, bus pass information, ridership eligibility FAQs (frequently asked questions) and outreach to promote the limited availability of home-to-school bus transportation this semester was also approved this evening.
The temporary busing plan includes five “geographically remote areas” and 12 “distance areas” (shown below) for an estimated total ridership of 2,194 students:
Geographically Remote Areas and Estimated Student Ridership
1. The Farm (209 students, grades K-12)
2. Ortega Hwy (40 students, grades K-12)
3. Horsethief Canyon (191 students, grades 9-12)
4. City of Canyon Lake (611 students, K-12)
5. Meadowbrook and Greenwald (257 students, K-12)
Distance Areas and Estimated Student Ridership:
1. Sedco Hills to CLM (129 students, grades 6-8)
2. Canyon Ranch to RRE (89 students, grades K-5)
3. Canyon Ranch to CLM (40 students, grades 6-8)
4. Canyon Hills to EHS (112 students, grades 9-12)
5. Canyon Estates to CLM (75 students, grades 6-8)
6. Grand Avenue between Jamison St. & Shoreline Dr. to LVS only (121 students, K-8)
7. Grand Avenue between LVS & Pederson to LHS only (87 students, grades 9-12)
8. The Grove to EES (38 students, grades K-5)
9. Tuscany Hills to CLM (74 students, grades 6-8)
10. Clinton Keith Area to RRE (28 students, K-5) routes in italics added by Board motion
11. Clinton Keith Area to DBM (52, 6-8 students)
12. Clinton Keith Area to EHS (44, 9-12 students)
The areas to be served include
The Farm (approximately 209 students, grades K-12)
Ortega Hwy. (approximately 40 students, grades K-12)
Horsethief Canyon (approximately 191 students, grades 9-12)
City of Canyon Lake (approximately 611 students, K-12)
Meadowbrook and Greenwald (approximately 257 students, K-12)
Sedco Hills (approximately 129 students, grades 6-8)
Canyon Ranch (approximately 89 students, grades K-5)
Canyon Ranch (approximately 40 students, grades 6-8)
Canyon Hills (approximately 112 students, grades 9-12)
Canyon Estates (approximately 75 students, grades 6-8)
Grand Avenue between Jamison St. & Shoreline Dr. (approximately 121 students, K-8)
Grand Avenue between LVS & Pederson (approximately 87 students, grades 9-12)
The Grove (approximately 38 students, grades K-5)
Tuscany Hills (approximately 74 students, grades 6-8)
Clinton Keith (approximately 124 students, grades K-12)
District officials plan to make more information available to parents regarding specific addresses that will be served. All special education students will continue to be served in the district.
Bus passes will be available for one semester only (August—December) at the current price of $175 per semester, avoiding any fee increase for now.
District Assistant Superintendent George Landon said the district is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding busing for the second half of the 2012-13 school year due to budget concerns.
“We don’t want this to be a one-semester issue,” Landon said.
Based on 2011-12 school year numbers, the partial restoration will serve about half the number of kids who rode the bus last year.
Board members Tom Thomas and Stan Crippen were absent Monday.
Michelle Mears-Gerst is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.