AUSTINTOWN SCHOOLS Busing situation brings praise, new complaints
The superintendent said there will be fewer problems as drivers learn their routes.
By JEANNE STARMACK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Schools Superintendent Douglas Heuer praised the district's transportation employees for what he said is good work, but parents still said after a board meeting Monday night that they are unhappy with busing problems.
During the meeting, Heuer said bus drivers are doing a good job despite the fact that cuts in the transportation department amounted to one-ninth of its total budget.
"That's a large cut, and you can't have business as usual," he said.
He said that to save money, the district cut 10 teachers and 18 classified employees last year, including eight bus drivers. He said two-thirds of the drivers have different routes this year.
"I have received phone calls from parents and discussed budget cuts, and parents now realize you can't do business as usual," he said.
After the meeting, however, Debbie Woodford and Steve Biroschak, whose children go to St. Christine School in Youngstown, said they're concerned that 30-minute waits on buses are making their children sick from diesel fumes.
Woodford said her children have reported headaches and nausea.
She said she also isn't happy that her children's bus ride lengthened from 10 minutes last year to 40 minutes this year.
She said her children are picked up in their Cornersburg neighborhood, are taken into Austintown to St. Joseph School on New Road, then travel back past their neighborhood to St. Christine's.
"How is this saving mileage? How is this saving anything?" Woodford asked.
Many parents have complained about busing changes this year that have children waiting at stops in the morning from 6:45 a.m. until whenever the buses can get there to pick them up.
One parent said last week that she is now driving her daughter to school because the child waited 35 minutes for a week to get the bus, then missed the bus the next week when it came earlier.
There were no specific times given, Heuer said, though Colleen Bagnoli, the district's director of busing, said last week that it should be easier now to give parents who call the bus garage a more specific time to send their children to the bus stops.
Parents of parochial school children have been unhappy with a change that did away with busing that took their kids directly to their schools. Buses now drop them off at St. Joe's, where those going to St. Christine's and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Austintown transfer to other buses.
Parent have said they're frustrated that some of their children are now riding buses for 45 minutes to an hour.
Heuer said that as drivers become more familiar with their routes, there will be fewer problems.
He said he does not believe children are in danger from diesel fumes because the buses "aren't sitting for 30 minutes and running."
He said that an influx of new-pupil registrations also caused bus pickup points to be revised at the last minute, and that there are longer routes and fewer stops.
But he said the route changes have definitely saved the district a significant amount of money.
"It's a thankless job, because no matter what you do, someone isn't going to be happy," he said.