Friday, June 8, 2012
By ERIC HAMILTON
When I was growing up, my Mom didn’t drive. She didn’t even own a car. To get to work every day, she endured an hour-long ride on public transportation. The bus system was available in our suburb and she used her bus pass five days a week to commute to her job in Columbus.
This process was just something she was used to and that I took part in as well. If I wanted to go shopping for sports gear, I rode the COTA bus to Columbus. It was an interesting experience filled with seeing lots of different types of people. It was a little un-nerving for me, as a 12-year-old, riding home on the bus after dark in a big city like Columbus. But that was just life I guess.
I recalled this experience after receiving a couple emails in my Neighbors inbox this week. They were from parents who live in Austintown and send their children to St. Christine’s School. They were venting their frustration over the changes the Austintown school district is making to their school bus transportation. One of those modifications was cutting bus drivers’ hours and therefore, eliminating their health benefits.
But these letters honed in on a letter parents living in the district received saying that the district is proposing to offer alternative transportation via the WRTA public transportation system. As one letter states: “As the parents of a St. Christine student, we are writing to protest the proposed change to our bussing situation. You say that based on the Ohio Revised Code, you have the right to offer alternative transportation and you are doing this by offering WRTA public transportation. Well, that same code also requires you to provide safe, timely transportation to our children and the proposed WRTA option is not safe or timely.”
I have not seen the letter and can’t speak intelligently on the details of this situation. But it sounds like the district is willing to foot the bill for public transportation for students who live in the district, but attend private schools like St. Christine’s or St. Joseph and Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In theory, that would leave more room on the school buses for the students attending the public schools in Austintown.
Obviously, everyone living in Austintown pays taxes for the schools. They vote for levies, despite the fact that they send their children to other schools. And they are upset that their children would have to use public transportation to school.
As the letter continues, the biggest beef seems to be the danger factor.
“Requiring my 8-year-old son to ride public transportation alone to and from school is not safe. In fact, it’s absolutely crazy! He would have to walk over a mile to and from the WRTA bus stop because the busses do not stop near our home or at St. Christine’s. My 8-year-old son would have an unsupervised layover at the downtown WRTA bus terminal, which is one of the highest crime areas in the city. He would be unsupervised, at risk and scared to death. And to top it all off, he would be late for school every single day. This so called “option” is completely ridiculous.”
Another letter brings up a point about safety: “For example, when a school bus stops, cars have to stop while the children load and unload. With the WRTA bus, there are no such safety procedures in place. Again, we are talking about an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old!”
This does seem crazy to me. There’s no way I’d let my 9-year-old daughter ride a WRTA bus by herself. Any number of things could happen and none of them are good. So, I have to side with the parents on this one.
I would note, however, that it is the parents’ choice to send their children to a private school. If they enrolled them in Austintown’s public schools, there wouldn’t be much of an issue. Certainly, with this transportation issue, some may do that.
Whatever happens in the end, I’m on the side of keeping the children as safe as possible. It doesn’t sound like a trip on the WRTA is the best solution.