Parents complain about busing



The district plans air quality tests on bus exhaust fumes.
By JEANNE STARMACK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- School board members heard more busing complaints as parents said at the board's regular meeting Monday that they believe the safety of their children has been compromised.
The school district has asked the Ohio Department of Health to do air quality studies at St. Joseph School on New Road to see if diesel exhaust is a hazard to pupils' health. The district is also asking the Ohio Department of Education to review the schools' transportation department, focusing on routes, children's safety, pickup points for public and parochial schools and finances, said Superintendent Douglas Heuer.
The school board made money-saving cuts for this year that included laying off eight bus drivers. Routes and pickup points were affected.
The district also changed busing for parochial school students so that St. Joseph School became a central pickup point. Pupils are picked up and taken to St. Joe's, where they board other buses to travel to St. Christine's or Immaculate Heart of Mary schools.
Some parents have complained that their children are riding buses longer and have to walk farther to bus stops.
Health concerns
Some parents have also said they believe diesel exhaust fumes are making their children sick. Debbie Woodford and Steve Biroschak, whose children go to St. Christine School in Youngstown, said last month their children have complained of headaches and nausea.
At Monday's meeting, Woodford said some of her concerns are answered with the news of the air quality study and the audit. But she said buses are still driving off before children have a chance to sit down. Woodford contacted the Ohio Highway Patrol several weeks ago to complain that her children, among others, were not being given the chance to sit down before their bus pulled out. Woodford, who lives on White Beech Lane, said that a trooper from the patrol visited transportation director Colleen Bagnoli at the end of last month, and the situation improved "for a week or so." But now, it's back to the way it was, she said.
Two other parents said they're afraid their children aren't safe walking in the dark or on busy roads with no sidewalks.
Dangerous walks
Al Leo, 3681 Burkey Road, said his 14-year-old son walks to the intersection with Yolanda Road to get the bus, when he used to be picked up and dropped off at the family's driveway.
Leo said his son will have to walk in the road when snowplows make walking on the side impossible.
He said he would hold school administrators professionally and personally responsible if, "God forbid, anything happens."
Michelle Learn of Beaver Drive said her 12-year-old son used to walk a short distance to the end of their road. Now he turns onto Riblett Road and walks a quarter of a mile to his bus stop. Businesses on Riblett generate traffic, and "cars go really, really fast," said Learn.
Response
After hearing parents, board member Michael Creatore called for a work session to deal with busing issues. He also said he wants Heuer to forward all letters from concerned parents to board members. He said he is concerned that bad weather will make Riblett and Burkey roads dangerous.
Board president Brad Gessner took issue with an anonymous letter-writer who accused him of not returning a phone call about busing concerns.
The Youngstown Catholic Diocese wrote the state Department of Education about busing complaints, and included the anonymous letter in a package of comments sent as an attachment.
Gessner said he never received any messages.
"For someone just to anonymously say the board didn't respond and wasn't concerned, that's not fair," he said.
Heuer said the air quality tests and the performance audit of the transportation department should be done within the next two weeks.

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