The South Washington County School District is considering revising its transportation policy to put an end to what officials have deemed an unacceptable level of service.
Administrators last month proposed changes to the policy that would add bus service, rearrange school start times and shorten the distance middle school and high school students walk to school. The hope is that the change will solve the problem of chronically late bus service, which has kept some pupils waiting as long as 15 minutes after school for a bus ride home, officials said at a recent school board meeting.
About 4,800 students at 10 schools would be affected by the change, which would go into effect this fall. Bus service is also provided to private and charter school students who live in the district, though administrators don't have a count of how many of those children take advantage of the service.
Besides addressing the problem of some buses showing up tardy for student pickups in the afternoon, the district also hopes to solve the problem of some students getting to school too early.
"The problem we have with our middle school buses is that in order to make our buses on time to pick up kids in the morning, we have to drop them at the middle school sometimes as much as a half-hour before the start of school," Michael Vogel, the district's director of operations, said in a recent interview.
He continued: "And our target is to not drop kids any more than 15 minutes before the start of school."
The district draws 17,800 students from Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park and Woodbury.
Under the current policy, which was instituted at the start of this school year, the district provides busing for middle school students who live at least 1.5 miles from neighborhood schools and for high school students living 2 miles or more from school.
Those distances would shrink to 1 mile and 1.5 miles, respectively, under the plan that was pitched by Vogel and transportation director Ron Meyer at the Feb. 20 school board meeting.
At the same time, officials say they could cut busing costs and ensure on-time pickups and drop-offs by staggering start times at 10 schools across the district: The start of the day would be pushed back half an hour to 8:40 a.m. at Armstrong, Cottage Grove, Hillside, Middleton, Pine Hill, Pullman and Woodbury elementaries, while the first bell would ring 15 minutes earlier — at 7:55 a.m. — at Crestview, Red Rock and Royal Oaks. Two nonpublic schools, Math & Science Academy and St. Ambrose of Woodbury, could also potentially be affected under the proposal.
Vogel said he believed a change was needed because the district "consistently had difficulty getting buses" after the board voted before the 2009-2010 school year to adopt a four-tiered system — in which schools start at 7:55 a.m., 8:10, 8:35 or 9:20.
Not everyone is on board with the proposed changes.
Vogel said the district has heard from a small but vocal group of parents who were upset that they would have to alter their schedules.
While the school board seemed receptive to the modified policy, which would cost the district $193,801, board member Jim Gelbmann wondered whether there was another, more cost-effective option where "we could squeeze a little bit more efficiency out of this" by reducing the district's reliance on leased buses.
Officials plan to hold public hearings on the issue March 17 and 18.