Dayton Public Schools will bus about 3,000 fewer students this year than last under a plan district officials say should eliminate transportation problems, including late or sporadic bus service, that have plagued the district.
That means more students will be walking to school after the district tightened eligibility requirements for bus service. The changes take effect with the start of school on Aug. 15.
Last year, the school district transported students who live farther than 1.5 miles from their school. This year, it will bus only those students within the 1.5-mile radius whose routes to school are impeded by any one of four hazards (active railroad crossing, a river, major highway, or bridge without a sidewalk), or students who have an existing transportation requirement in their individual education programs.
By law, the district does not have to transport students who live within two miles of their school.
Dayton Public has started mailing out letters to parents indicating whether students will walk to school this year or ride the bus. The district anticipates it will bus 10,000 students this year, down from last year’s 13,000.
Superintendent Lori Ward said she realizes some people aren’t going to be happy.
“We know when you change a culture, it’s going to take some time,” she said. “It’s like anything else, some decisions are not greeted positively by all of the stakeholders.”
Ward said improving efficiency of its transportation system was the driving factor behind these changes, not saving money.
“Reducing the cost of transportation is definitely a priority to Dayton Public Schools, but the focus was how can we transport in a safe, on-time environment? That was the No. 1 objective,” Ward said. She was unable to pinpoint the potential cost savings.
Students at charter and parochial schools who are transported by the district will be impacted in the same way by the new criteria, Ward said. District officials plan to meet with those school officials soon to discuss the changes.
The school district will hold four informational fairs to help explain the changes to parents. It also is setting up an information hotline to answer questions beginning Wednesday.
In preparation for larger numbers of walkers, district officials said they are working with city and county officials to raise safety awareness during the opening of school.
“Most of the district’s preK-8 schools have prepared suggested routes to school for walkers, organized volunteers to walk with children, asked for assistance from neighborhood police officers and conducted walking audits over the summer to alert fire or police officials of any problem areas around their schools,” a district news release said.
School officials also said the city of Dayton is working with the district to address any nuisance structures that pose a particular concern. And Dayton Public staff plan to implement elements of the Safe Routes to Schools Program, which addresses the safety of children as they walk or bike to school.
The district also announced Monday it will return to a staggered bell schedule to allow more time for bus drivers to pick up or drop off students between schools.
And although the district reduced the number of bus routes by about five, it has hired more bus drivers to assist with those routes. Ward said they added 23 substitute drivers and 11 trainees to assist the 159 bus drivers with route coverage in the event of driver absences.
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