YORK, Maine — School Committee members and at least one parent struck a cautionary note during a recent committee meeting about plans by Ledgemere Transportation to roll out a new bus route system in January.
Due to a perennial shortage of bus drivers that dates back in York at least three years, Ledgemere has come up with a bus stop system, as opposed to the current house-by-house system. After delaying implementation from November to December, the current operable date is Jan. 2, said Superintendent Lou Goscinski.
The School Committee adopted a policy a year ago that laid out the parameters for a bus stop system. It was implemented specifically to deal with long bus rides to school caused by fewer buses. Chairwoman Brenda Alexander said when her 14-year-old child was in elementary school there were 12 buses; currently, there are nine.
Under the policy, and key to the cluster stop system Ledgemere is implementing, is its walking guidelines. Whether walking to school or to a bus stop, students in grades K-4 can walk no more than one-half mile; grades 5-8, three-quarters of a mile; and high school, one mile.
“It’s pretty typical for a district to have kiddos walk rather than have door-to-door delivery, especially in rural areas. If you do door-to-door pickup and dropoff, kids are going to be late,” Goscinski said. At the beginning of the year, some students were on the bus for longer than an hour each way, he said.
He said when this is implemented, a parent, guardian or authorized person, has to pick up children in grades K-4 at the bus stop at the end of the day. He said parents are going to have to be notified of this. But all in all, he said changes need to be made.
“If we’re going to codify this and make this an effective and efficient transportation system, we need to go to cluster stops,” he said.
There was a fair amount of pushback. Meredith Schmid said she was concerned about elementary-aged students walking up to half a mile to a bus stop, “especially in January when it’s going to be snowy. It seems like a really bad time to start this. I have a concern about kids walking half a mile to a stop, then waiting for the bus in inclement weather, especially if there are no sidewalks.”
She said she’d like to revisit the policy. And while there didn’t seem to be enough support for that, Julie Eneman nonetheless raised issues about how the policy will be implemented.
“I don’t have a concern with the policy as written,” she said, adding the committee followed National Transportation Safety Bureau guidelines for walking distances. “My concern is that when Ledgemere is interpreting the language of the policy that says students ‘may’ be required to travel the same distance as someone who walks to school, that should be interpreted in my opinion as a reasonable distance, and it should also be a safe distance,” she said.
Parent Michelle Marean also had concerns, telling the committee she is likely the “first of many parents” the committee will hear from. She said she believes a parent survey should be conducted and the committee should also hold public hearings. The routes should be published in advance so parents can comment, she said.
For instance, she said, “If there is not a sidewalk, children should not be expected to walk in the road. I would not allow my children, nor would the parents I know on Cider Hill Road. It’s absolutely forbidden.” She said the speed limit on any particular road needs to also be taken into consideration.
“There needs to be time for this to be implemented. I think there will be minor riots ensuing” if not, she said. “I just want to put that out there. Given our rural nature this is something that needs to be considered beforehand,” she said.
Goscinski is meeting with Ledgemere officials today, Nov. 28, and said he will tell them they need to make a presentation before the committee that lays out all their parameters.