DPS reveals busing changes, may reconsider one piece

Dayton Public Schools confirmed their new student busing plans Tuesday night, then immediately said they would revisit one of the changes after parents and daycare providers complained.

The district has been working for a year to solve major transportation problems, and Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said Tuesday that DPS is counting on four changes to improve busing performance. The biggest switch is spreading out school start times to allow more drivers to handle multiple routes.

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The other three changes would lower the number of students eligible to ride DPS buses – no busing for certain charter/parochial students whose school is 30 minutes from their “home” school, no busing (with a few exceptions) for students who want to attend a DPS school outside their home quadrant, and no busing to or from for-profit day care centers.

It was that last item that caused a mild uproar at the school board meeting. Superintendent Rhonda Corr said many school districts require for-profit day care centers to transport students to and from their centers via their own van or bus. But DPS has been busing those students for years.

“We are going to go by what state minimums are,” Corr said. “We have been going above and beyond what we needed to do in Dayton with transportation for a long time. Quite frankly, I think that has hurt us, because we can’t provide simple transportation.”

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Burton said the daycare change would impact about 500 students, leading school board member Hazel Rountree to worry that some of those families would take their students out of DPS.

Rountree bounced back and forth, first calling the move, “a very genuine, well-thought-out decision by administrators,” then quickly questioning whether enough people were involved in the process.

“I think there has to be a better way. The problem is we’re not considering other alternatives,” Rountree said. “It could mean daycares have to pay a fee, because somebody’s got to pay.”

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School board member John McManus said it would be “a tremendous dereliction of duty” if DPS doesn’t make changes to improve transportation.

“You know what, to the daycares, God love ya, but if you want transportation, buy a bus and quit coming to the taxpayers, asking us to foot the bill,” McManus said. “We have our own buses to buy.”

Jama Hardern, owner/operator of the Rainbow Years child care center in East Dayton, said she uses two 15-passenger buses, but also gets students off DPS buses. She said many smaller providers serving poor families can’t afford $46,000 for a bus, and worried that the move could result in more families using unregulated and unrated centers.

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“We want to help you, we want to be on your team,” Hardern said, explaining that she aligns her curriculum to DPS’ K-12 content standards. “But this doesn’t feel like you want us on your team.”

Multiple day care providers said DPS didn’t inform them of the change, adding they discovered the issue in recent days. Corr did discuss it in four town hall meetings in May, and the issue was mentioned repeatedly in news coverage.

Terri Sims, owner of Playtime Nursery School, said many small centers serving state-subsidized students can’t afford buses on the state reimbursement rates they get.

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“But we don’t close our doors … we take those kids anyway and suffer that loss because we know that outside our center, that environment is unsafe,” Sims said. “This transportation (plan) is hindering the parents to go to work. You’re going to find out a lot of your kids are not coming to school.”

Gwendolyn Wood, a mother of four, said she just removed her kids from Dayton Public Schools, but charter and parochial students are still transported by DPS. Wood echoed Sims’ concerns, worrying about “being able to get my children to a safe place.”

Rountree said she wants the issue discussed at the board’s next strategic planning session, but that is Aug. 1, just two weeks before the first day of school, when many busing routes are already set.

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Corr said the district had to come up with the best transportation plan for more than 10,000 students — getting kids to school on time, not keeping them on buses for 90 minutes, and not missing routes. She said there’s no way to make everyone happy.

“We have to change the way we do business,” Corr said. “Some difficult choices had to be made, and I made those difficult decisions. That’s not to say that down the road we can’t reconsider, but need to crawl before we can walk.”

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