Despite an outpouring of parent concerns and questions, the New Lenox School District 122 approved schedule changes for student transportation. A $100 busing fee increase, however, was voted down.
The district expects to save about $372,000 by minimizing the number of buses and drivers needed by staggering start times. This was part of a $2.5 million budget reduction plan approved by the Board of Education on Tuesday night. The savings would come from cutting 19 buses and 16 drivers, a result of dropping off grades 4-6 first at 7:30 a.m. and making start times for kindergarten and junior high the same later in the morning.
Because so many parents were upset with , administrators revisited the idea and presented a slightly tweaked version to a room full about about 30 community members. The district detailed the new option before opening the floor to public comment.
"We spent the time, as a result of all the calls from parents, coming up with a tweaked version," Superintendent Mike Sass said, noting that administrators even looked up times for sunrise and sunsets so students wouldn't be waiting at bus stops in the dark. “We needed to find a way to get children to school safely and efficiently. We try to listen to our people, but we can’t do everything everyone wants us to.”
In the new proposal, which was approved 5-2 by the board, intermediate students would be dropped off by buses 10 minutes later than originally intended. The district also promised that no child would be picked up earlier than 7 a.m. or dropped off later han 4:30 p.m.
approved start times vs. originally proposed timesGrades Approved dropoff Start time Dismissal Original dropoff Grades 4-6 7:30am 7:35am 2pm 7:20am Junior High 8:20am 8:25am 2:50pm 8:10am AM Kindergarten 8:20am 8:25am 10:55am 8:10am PM Kindergarten 12:15pm 12:20pm 2:50pm 12:15pm Grades 1-3 9:10am 9:15am 3:40pm 9:05am
The board approved the schedule changes 5-2 with members Maureen Broderick and Sue Smith in opposition, but even the "yes" votes seemed difficult for a couple members who took long pauses to perhaps ponder their final decision one last time. A number of other concerns were raised during the discussion, both by parents and board members. Here's the answers to some frequent questions:
How does this affect ride times?
Right now, the district estimates the maximum ride time for primary is 40 minutes, intermediate/junior high is 45 minutes and kindergarten is 35 minutes.
A bus ride will obviously need to be shorter than 45 minutes for grades 4-6 if they're to be picked up after 7 a.m. and dropped off at school by 7:30. Administrators said the district could also consider the bus stops for intermediate students to further maximize the time and make sure children are spending the least amount of time waiting at a stop or on the bus.
Will younger students be safe with earlier start times and the "stop and drop" plan that would let students off a bus before others have arrived?
One of the major concerns parents had was the safety of their children. With the originally proposed pickup times, students in grades 4-6 could be waiting for the bus as early as 6:45 a.m., which in some cases would be in the dark.
This tweaked proposal that was approved seemed to calm the nerves of some parents with the promise that no children would be picked up before 7 a.m. Sass stressed that this isn’t a huge diversion from what’s going on now; the earliest time intermediate students are picked up now is 7:08 a.m. With the new model, it would be eight minutes earlier.
The new “stop and drop” plan would let children off the bus without having to wait for all buses to arrive to the school. Some parents were worried this would be dangerous if children were getting off one bus when another was arriving. But administrators assured parents that each school would have supervisors ready to take children into the schools.
Why aren't junior high kids starting school first?
That was the district's first instinct, Sass said. But to maximize savings, junior high and kindergarten would need to be bused at the same time.
“If the junior high kids started first, the kindergarten students would have to start first, too," he said. "And that’s too early for them.”
Right now, the district has 33 buses for grades 4-6, 33 for grades 1-3, 23 for junior high and 10 for kindergarten. So Sass said it made sense to make busing times the same for the latter two age groups.
Besides the safety of younger children, the biggest concern for parents was after-school care for their kids. Many parents enjoy having junior high students who can watch the younger children after class gets out. With the approved proposal, grades 4-6 would be dismissed nearly an hour before junior high students.
“I’m all for putting money back into the classroom," said Jennifer Knezz, teacher at Andrew High School who has three children in the New Lenox School District. "But they’re going home and a lot of these kids are not properly supervised.”
Instead of these changes, can we pay a new convenience fee?
A couple parents who spoke at the meeting said they would rather pay a new busing fee than have these changes to the start times, because now they'd have to worry about child care after school.
"I’d rather pay a normal bus fee, a convenience fee," said George Sheehey, a parent with three children currently in the New Lenox School District. "I bet that would help your budget shortfall. You’re telling me you can’t save anywhere else in the district? This is so inconvenient now."
Administrators said they weren’t considering additional fees for all families who utilize busing services, and weren’t sure whether the district could legally charge a fee to families who qualified for state-reimbursed busing.
What other options were considered?
The district ran through other options at the meeting, but none matched the potential savings as the approved plan.
One option, for instance, was busing junior high students first, followed by intermediate students and then busing kindergarten through third-graders together. Because of the distance of from the other schools, seven more buses would be required and the district would only save $218,000. Right now, kindergarten students are bused by themselves and are also picked up in their driveways, both of which would change had this been the plan.
Another possibility that was decided against was to bus students from and all its feeder schools using some buses and and its feeder schools using others. This would have saved about $132,000.
"We were presented the best plans," Board President Kathy Markus said. "We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have. We worry about the children first."
new bus fees voted down
The board did, however, oppose a new busing fee that administrators suggested for families who who live within 1.5 miles of their school.
After charging a new $280 busing fee this year to families who no longer qualified for state reimbursement, administrators proposed increasing that amount to $380. Still, the $100 increase was too much for most board members. The impact it would have on affected families, they argued, was greater than the good it would do for the district’s budget, because it would bring in only about $8,000 of savings.
The board voted 5-2 in favor of keeping the fee at $280 and keeping family caps the same. Deb Kedzior and Kathy Miller were the two dissenting votes.
“I think we could find $8,000 somewhere else in the budget," member Maureen Broderick said.