A transportation study for East Penn School District– which includes planned safety improvements and two options for reducing bus service at Willow Lane Elementary School – was released to the school board Monday night by Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger.
Several parents of Willow Lane students again expressed their anger and frustration -- both that the district continues to move ahead with plans to make more elementary children walk to school next year, possibly from homes as much as 1.5 miles away, and because parents have not been able to participate in the decision-making process.
“I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated that no parent input has been sought into any of those recommendations,” said parent Susan Coenen after the meeting. “When is the dialogue going to begin? I still am awaiting an answer to that question.”
Parent Jonathan Berger asked what happened to the idea of a committee involving parents that was promised by the administration late last year. And parent John Jansen complained basic transportation information he has been trying to get from the district “is either not available or is not being provided.”
The “comprehensive” transportation study, which Seidenberger said will be posted on East Penn’s website Tuesday, looks at the entire district -- not just Willow Lane.
For example, the superintendent said he will be talking to officials at St. Ann Catholic School and Seven Generations Charter School, both in Emmaus, about proposals to consolidate and reduce bus service to those schools.
The administration also proposes finding out how many Emmaus High students do not intend to ride under-utilized school buses next year.
Seidenberger said 48-passenger buses serving the high school are only half full and the district can save at least $34,000 by eliminating two buses.
He indicated a similar approach will be taken at Willow Lane, because buses serving that school also are not full.
Seidenberger said a transportation survey of Willow Lane parents will be redone. He explained a previous survey is invalid because 44 of 201 people filled out duplicate surveys. He said the new survey will ask parents if they want to be involved in the process.
When she addressed the board at the beginning of the meeting Coenen said: “I have been speaking at you since Dec. 3. And I mean ‘at’, because this is not a dialogue.”
She said the district should have a meeting with all parents of children attending Willow Lane because transportation is a school-wide issue.
Parent Jill Ahne told the board: “It does not seem we can trust the school board to make decisions that are in the best interest of the safety of our children.” She said the board seems determined to reduce busing “no matter how many parents keep coming to the meetings and share their concerns with you.”
Ahne asked the board not reduce busing until all safety improvements have been completed at the school by both Lower Macungie Township and the school district.
“Traffic will be horrendous, with hundreds of cars coming in and out,” warned parent Donna Jurado, adding children walking to school will not be safe from all those cars. “Busing is the best option for the safety of the children.”
Board member Julian Stolz made a motion that the school district should continue funding busing in the 2013-14 school year to all Willow Lane students now receiving bus transportation. His motion was defeated 6-3. Only Lynn Donches and Michael Policano voted with Stolz.
Board president Charles Ballard called Stolz’s motion “narrow-minded” and “a pandering attempt to attain votes”—which generated unhappy groans in the audience.
Stolz said the board should act in the best interest of parents and students, “not simply rubber-stamping the administration’s agenda, which is all certain members of this board seem interested in doing.”
Like some parents who spoke, Stolz maintained all planned safety improvements at Willow Lane will not be made by the time the new school year starts Aug. 22. He said all improvements should be in place before the districts cuts busing for anybody. He said his motion was in the best interest of the safety of Willow Lane students.
But Ken Bacher, who voted against Stolz’s motion, said East Penn did not start busing fewer Willow Lane students at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year because the administration was not ready to put a plan in place. “I believe they will do the same this year if they don’t believe we’re ready,” he said.
Bacher also “doesn’t like the idea of singling out specific parts of our population for special treatment.”
As evidence East Penn does listen to parents, the superintendent offered the school board two options for Willow Lane – ending busing for children living within 1.5 miles of the school or ending it for those living within three-quarters of a mile.
“In fairness to students in other schools,” his report recommends the .75-mile distance also should be extended to Alburtis, Jefferson and Lincoln elementary schools.
He said not busing Willow Lane students who live within 1.5 miles of the school will save East Penn $111,761 a year, not the $60,000 a year previously reported by the district. If East Penn pays half the cost of seven crossing guards planned around the school, the savings will be $102,206 a year.
If the district does not bus students living within three-quarters of a mile from Willow Lane, East Penn would save $54,059 next year. The superintendent said 125 children would walk to the school.