The New Albany-Plain Local School District might abolish its 2-mile eligibility limit for elementary-student busing.

The New Albany-Plain Local School District might abolish its 2-mile eligibility limit for elementary-student busing.

Michael Sawyers, the district's chief of operations and strategic development who is taking over as superintendent next month, said the school board would vote July 25 to approve bus routes for the new academic year.

Sawyers has recommended that the district provide busing for all students in kindergarten through fifth grade at an estimated annual cost of $16,000.

About 200 students who previously were ineligible would have the option for transportation. The 2-mile rule would remain in effect for middle school and high school students, and about 600 students total would remain ineligible for transportation.

"For $16,000 ... it's a huge benefit to our community, our families and our kids without a significant expenditure," Sawyers said.

2-mile limit

When a levy was rejected in 2014, the school board adopted a state statute that allowed districts to waive transportation for K-8 students living within 2 miles of their school building, Sawyers said.

Although the Ohio Revised Code also provided the opportunity to forgo transportation for all high school students, the district continued to provide busing for high-schoolers who lived outside the 2-mile rule limit. However, if students ineligible for transportation had a sibling who was eligible, all students in that family were provided busing.

The district eliminated 10 bus-driver positions and 10 routes, Sawyers said.

Busing needs

Sawyers said the district would need to add three more bus routes to transport students in grades 6 to 12. Those routes would require two new bus drivers and one driver to be reassigned.

Sawyers said the district could provide busing for all K-5 students by making those bus drivers complete five-hour runs instead of three-hour runs. The district would pay $8,013.34 more per year for a five-hour bus driver rather than a three-hour driver. Hiring two five-hour drivers would cost $16,026.68 annually.

The district could continue to provide busing to all K-5 students for about $80,000 over the term of the most recent five-year forecast, Sawyers told board members, but students in grades K-3 would have to ride three to a seat. Previously, only certain fleets required that, he said. Buses have no seat belts, and safety is managed through seat heights.

Sawyers said following the institution of the 2-mile limit, parents formed carpools and more families signed students up for before-school programs.

Many students in neighborhoods close to schools walked to school buildings with older siblings or in groups; others rode bikes, Sawyers said. Some parents rotated the responsibility of walking with groups of students.

"We don't think that will change," he said.

Board Vice President John McClelland said he predicts his own children would continue to walk to school.

"We were just fine with the kids not riding a bus last year," he said.

However, McClelland said, he knows some families living within 2 miles of their students' schools have difficulty managing family schedules and dealing with inclement weather in taking their children to school.

"I commend Mr. Sawyers for again looking deep into the budget and finding efficiencies and doing this in a way that really is not going to affect the bottom line much," he said.

He said the benefits to families and safety of children outweigh the cost.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

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