Busing to private schools
Johnstown-Monroe begins timed runs
As Northridge Local parents and administration await Licking County Common Pleas Judge Tom Marcelain's ruling on whether the district must re-time bus runs to nonpublic schools, the Johnstown-Monroe school district has begun its own estimated timed runs, although it's unknown when it would officially time runs with Ohio Department of Education representatives.
Both the Northridge and Johnstown-Monroe school districts contract with Petermann Transportation for student busing services, and both districts are trying to determine if they are required to transport all students who live within the district but attend private schools.
According to state law, if a route takes longer than 30 minutes to transport district students to a nonpublic school, the district is no longer obligated to provide transportation.
Northridge officials have determined that three nonpublic schools take longer than 30 minutes, but the district is facing backlash from angry parents of nonpublic students.
Johnstown-Monroe is trying to avoid a similar backlash.
"Did we learn any lessons from Northridge's experience? You bet," Johnstown-Monroe treasurer Tammy Woods said.
She said she expects Johnstown-Monroe's estimated timed runs, ahead of official runs conducted with an Ohio Department of Education representative, to continue through next week. The entire process of determining which nonpublic schools to which the district will transport students could take months.
Woods said Johnstown-Monroe has 27 students from 13 families who live within the district but attend nonpublic schools. Northridge has far more, she said.
Johnstown-Monroe Superintendent Damien Bawn said that on the district's first two estimated timed runs, "Blessed Sacrament came out 24 seconds under 30 minutes from Searfoss Elementary." He said the run to Liberty Christian had to be called off because of mechanical problems with the bus. That run is expected to be rescheduled for Sept. 19.
According to Johnstown-Monroe's website, the district is conducting estimated timings from both Searfoss Elementary School and the combined Adams Middle School/Oregon Elementary School drop-off and pickup points. Searfoss serves kindergarten, fourth- and fifth-grade students; Oregon serves the first, second and third grades; and Adams Middle School serves the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
Mike Rush, whose children the district transports to a nonpublic school, said the Johnstown-Monroe administration has done an outstanding job of addressing the bus issue since the ruling of impracticality was reversed in July.
"The administration has been open about how it was going to proceed forward and has been very communicative with the parents about what is next," Rush said.
He commended Bawn for his willingness to work with parents on the steps the district is taking to comply with state law and the ODE guidelines involving nonpublic transportation.
"Not many administrators are willing to do what (Bawn) has done," Rush said. "He did not go into a bunker mentality; instead he is working in a transparent way with the families of the nonpublic students."
Rush said that on Sept. 10, the route from Searfoss to Blessed Sacrament was timed at 29 minutes.
"The bus made it there even though it traveled for quite a while at 45 miles per hour on Route 16," he said.
On Sept. 11, the bus traveled from Adams to Blessed Sacrament, and the time was 30 minutes, 36 seconds.
"The same speed issue came into play," Rush said. "The bus easily could have gone into the fast lane and went 55 to 65 (mph), and the results would have been under 30 minutes. This route should be considered under 30 minutes as a result of the bus speed and the road construction."
Rush said that on Sept. 13, the route timed was Searfoss to St. Matthew in Gahanna.
"The route that Petermann chose was down (U.S.) Route 62 to Hamilton Road, not the route that this bus runs -- ever," he said.
The time was 37 minutes. Rush said parents wanted the bus to use the route it uses when it goes to school.
"The ODE guidelines specifically state that the route to be timed needs to be an agreed upon route," he said.
Rush said the route chosen had many traffic signals, intersections and traffic to extend the time of the route.
"It does not take 37 minutes to get to Gahanna," he said.
Rush said he believes a mutually acceptable route should be timed.
"The parents did communicate with the district well-ahead of today (Sept. 13), and no one addressed their concerns, and there was no effort to reach a mutually agreed-upon route," he said.