A plan to switch the flow of bus and car traffic on the grounds of Willow Lane Elementary School was approved by a 4-3 vote of the East Penn School Board Monday night.
The district intends to have only school buses use the school’s main entrance off Sauerkraut Lane, while all parents dropping off and picking up children will access the school property via Mill Creek Road.
Cars and buses will be separated by gates. Eleven school buses now serve the school and more than 130 cars –more than the district anticipated -- drop off and pick up children every day.
East Penn’s plan, which will cost about $99,000 if all recommended improvements are made, will be reviewed at 4 p.m. Thursday by two of Lower Macungie Township’s five commissioners, when they meet as the township’s planning and zoning committee.
Such committees typically make recommendations to the full board of commissioners for final action.
East Penn Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger said the district’s plan already has been reviewed by the township staff and engineers and it is acceptable to them.
Lower Macungie officials plan to spend up to $185,000 to make off-site safety improvements near the elementary school before the 2013-14 school year begins in August.
After East Penn is sure Lower Macungie is moving forward with those improvements, Seidenberger said he will announce to the board his recommendation to reduce the number of students that will be bused to the school next year. He is considering two money-saving options: that busing be discontinued for students who live three-quarters of a mile or 1.5 miles from the school.
If Lower Macungie commissioners don’t support East Penn’s plan or won’t invest in making off-site improvements at Willow Lane -- “crosswalks, traffic signs, and crossing guards” – the school district will continue “to bus the kids,” said Seidenberger. “We’ve said that since the outset.”
But he also said East Penn will make traffic safety improvements at Willow Lane Elementary no matter what Lower Macungie decides to do.
“It’s time we take action and move forward,” he told the school board. “We have a traffic problem there right now.”
Cars coming to the school now line up in an entrance way shared with the Lower Macungie Fire Department, which has a fire station next to the school and is concerned about getting fire trucks out in an emergency.
District officials predict cars no longer will be backed up onto Sauerkraut Lane when the plan is implemented. They hope that won’t happen on Mill Creek Road, because the school’s entrance road off Mill Creek is “two to three times longer” than the entrance off Sauerkraut Lane.
The school board approved the plan after 10 parents of children attending Willow Lane again addressed the board. Several expressed anger and frustration at being shut out of the decision-making process by the school board and the superintendent.
Parent Jonathan Berger accused the administration of “a major breach of ethics – a lie.” Berger said on Feb. 25, Seidenberger informed the school board that a Nov. 27 walkability study meeting held at Willow Lane Elementary had been posted on both the Willow Lane and school district website calendars.
“I clearly remember it was not there,” said Berger, who added some board members also were not aware of that meeting.
Berger did some computer research and presented the board with a document he claimed showed that Nov. 27 meeting was not posted on those two web calendars until Feb. 25. He said that Feb. 25 entry later was deleted and replaced with a March 7 posting.
“I demand an explanation,” said Berger. “I’m not okay with this underhandedness and sneakiness. We need a change in procedures among the board and possibly a change in personnel.”
Seidenberger told Berger: “I will be checking out your comments.”
“We have asked time and time again to be allies,” Berger told the board. “However, the board has created an adversarial and often contentious relationship between themselves and the concerned parents, who are the number one stakeholders in the Willow Lane busing issue, by refusing to provide an open forum.”
Before Monday’s meeting, parent Susan Coenen presented the board and Seidenberger with a 17-page report that raised questions about several aspects of the district’s Willow Lane traffic plan. She said parts of the plan do not conform to guidelines and recommendations of the federal Safe Routes to School Program.
Even a couple of board members expressed concern about a narrow sidewalk used by children between a roadway and a fence, which Coenen pointed out in her report.
The administration refuted a claim by Coenen and other parents that children will have to cross up to four lanes of traffic to get to the school.
“Kids are supposed to get out [of cars] on the sidewalk adjacent to the building,” said Paul Szewczak, the district’s engineer.
Parent Donna Jurado presented the board with a two-page alternative to the district’s plan. “I beg you to work with us,” said Jurado.