Sat, Aug 11 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité
Students and parents at Sweetwater district schools are up in arms over a board decision to eliminate several bus routes and drivers for the 2012-13 school year as a cost-saving measure.
Parents say they were given little to no notice of the changes.
District spokeswoman Grace Sevilla said more than 35,000 (automated) calls went out March 2 to all families with children registered in the district, informing them of the potential changes.
“There was information posted on the transportation site and on the budget site,” she said. “It was also discussed at the March, April and May board meetings.”
Prior to this school year, middle school students who lived two miles from school and high school students who lived three miles from school were eligible for bus passes. Now only students who live 2.5 and 3.5 miles from school are eligible.
“Every year at this time there is a large demand for bus passes because we don’t know what the needs will be,” district spokesman Manny Rubio said. “This is the first time we’ve done this (in the last several years) where the district has cut drivers.”
While district officials say an automated recording of superintendent Dr. Ed Brand advised all parents of the potential change earlier this year, parents say they only found out two weeks to a few days before school resumed July 25.
Thirteen bus drivers were initially let go, saving approximately $800,000. However, following a heated July board meeting, a majority vote reinstated the jobs of four drivers and six routes.
While new routes were posted Aug. 3, parents had to show up at the transportation office Monday to purchase bus passes for added routes and empty bus seats.
Nearly 100 angry parents filled the boardroom, waiting on a first-come, first-served basis, for their number to be called in hopes of getting a bus pass for their children.
Some waited all day only to be placed on a waiting list.
Kelly Luna said she corresponded with approximately 50 teachers and parents on Facebook who said they never received the message.
“A lot of teachers said they didn’t know it was coming,” Luna said.
Luna said because of the lack of communication and disorganization she and others didn’t have the opportunity to voice their concerns.
“No communications were sent out from the school,” she said. “They didn’t even know the cuts were happening.”
Luna has two sons, one who is a junior at Otay Ranch High. She said with her husband soon to be deployed overseas she doesn’t have the time to drop her son off and pick him up each day.
“Picking up the kids is chaotic,” she said. “It takes 45 minutes and it’s dangerous. It’s not only a budget issue it’s a public safety issue.”
Parents Leah and Steve Johnson said the circumstance was out of control.
“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Leah said.
Their daughter Michelle is a sophomore at Eastlake High School.
The Johnsons live approximately two and a half miles from the school and said Michelle carries a backpack with three to five books, schoolwork and valuables.
“We’re worried about Michelle’s safety.”
On July 27, a 16-year-old boy was robbed of his cell phone by a man with a box cutter at 3:45 p.m. while he was walking home from Otay Ranch High School.
“Obviously student safety is always a concern for us, but really, incidents can happen at any distance,” Sevilla said.
“It’s a very short amount of walking distance that was added. For instance, the incident that occurred (July 27) happened within two blocks of Otay Ranch High School.”
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