Busing issue resurfaces as Northridge applies 30-minute rule
The school transportation issue in Northridge and Johnstown has become perhaps a little more "tortuous."
The Northridge Local school board on Aug. 16 voted 4-0 to reverse a July 2 decision regarding busing students to some private schools.
Board member Mark Dann was not present for the vote. The district will not bus students to Liberty Christian Academy in Pataskala, St. Matthew School in Gahanna or Gahanna Christian, but it will transport students to St. Francis, Blessed Sacrament, Granville Christian, Newark Catholic and Welsh Hills School in Granville.
Northridge treasurer Britt Lewis told board members the Petermann Co., a private firm that provides transportation for students, determined that it takes longer than 30 minutes to transport students to Liberty Christian Academy, St. Matthew School and Gahanna Christian and that according to state law, the district is not obligated to transport students more than 30 minutes from a starting point within the district -- in this case, Northridge High School.
Lewis said that on a non-school day, it took 39 minutes to reach St. Matthew and 33 minutes each to reach Gahanna Christian and Liberty Christian schools. He said on an actual school day, those trips would take quite a bit longer with the increased traffic.
Board member Chris Pokorny said transporting students to those three schools costs the district up to $27,000 per year per student.
Lewis said the district would accommodate students going to the Granville and Newark private schools in a single route and that Northridge, at least for now, would not share routes with Johnstown-Monroe Local Schools. He said Johnstown-Monroe administrators have yet to decide how their district will address the same issue and that until a decision is made, he doesn't want Northridge to be stuck with two routes if Johnstown-Monroe were to eliminate busing for private-school children living in its district. However, Lewis said, Northridge is willing to work with Johnstown if given the opportunity.
"It's always open," he said.
Johnstown-Monroe Superintendent Damien Bawn said his district's administration still is mulling what do about transporting private-school students.
"We'll be weighing Northridge schools' decision over the next couple of days," he said.
Bawn said everyone involved in the decision-making process at Johnstown-Monroe has been trying to navigate a very complicated set of circumstances to a fair and cost-effective solution.
"The road to a solution is a very tortuous route indeed," he said.
The district must adhere strictly to "a confusing patchwork" of state laws, administrative policies and procedures, Bawn said.
"Additionally, the fact that our district contracts with a commercial vendor (Petermann) for transportation services complicates matters," he said. "Now incorporate the additional complexity that sharing services between districts brings to bear, and you might better begin to understand why it has been difficult to determine the (best) answer to the issue so far."
Lewis said his main concern at this point is that the bus transporting children to Newark and Granville returns to Alexandria primary school on time to transfer students to buses waiting there at the end of the day. It's important, he said, that the younger children who attend Alexandria aren't waiting any longer than necessary.
Johnstown parent Mike Rush, who has been speaking on behalf of concerned parents, said he's pleased that transportation will continue to the Newark and Granville schools but disappointed the district used the 30-minute-distance ruling to deny transportation to the Gahanna schools.
"They figured out an end run around these," he said. "Parents have had the rug pulled out from underneath them in this situation."
Rush said parents have been working closely with both districts to help them afford transportation for all private-school students, and parents were expecting the process to take more time before routes were eliminated.
"It's really put some parents in a tough bind a couple weeks before school starts," he said.