PracticalDad and School:  Austerity Comes Home

Our present reality is simple:  too many promises and too few resources.  It’s been coming for years and is finally now rippling through the heart of our neighborhoods, only I doubt that everyone fully grasps what it means.  A case in point is the neighborhood bus stop.

I live in a geographically large school district, one of the biggest in our county, and like other districts, it’s responsible for providing bus transportation to the various schools.  Like other districts as well, it’s being pinched by declining tax revenues and state grants on one hand and the rise in fuel and other costs and the result is an ongoing search for ways to close the gap.  There have been numerous measures over the past two years but they’ve largely been unseen and now they’re becoming more obvious.  Several weeks before the start of school, the district transportation coordinator sent out the obligatory "bus stop" letters detailing where each child would be able to atch their respective bus; Youngest’s moved to a more distant corner.  However, it wasn’t until everybody showed up on the first day of school that the full extent of the change became clear. 

It helps to understand our neighborhood’s geography.  We live in a relatively new development with only one entry road within almost a full mile from an adjoining entry road.  When you enter the development, the road has a left turn within 150 yards of the entrance (we’ll call it road ‘A’) and if you continue to go straight, the entry road makes a giant loop of approximately one mile before terminating at road ‘A’, only about 100 yards from where it begins at the original entry road.  In simpler terms, envision a fish hook with a straight line running from the barbed end of the hook back to the hook itself, and that’s the neighborhood.  Previously, there were three separate bus stops on this loop.  With the new bus routes, our neighborhood’s stops have been slashed from five to two stops.  The loop road has been removed from the route and all of the kids now have to walk from their homes on the loop to the first bus stop at the beginning of the loop. 

On that first morning, Youngest and I walked to the assigned stop, the one furthest from our house – the one located at the hypothetical barbed end of the fishhook while all of the kids from the loop gathered at the stop at the entry road to the development; there were 17 children along with accompanying parents and siblings at this particular stop.  As I walked back after Youngest got onto the bus, I fell into conversation with some of the parents from that stop and again later in the day when the kids were to be dropped off.  Several had contacted the school district to complain and request that the loop stops be reinstated for multiple reasons:  distance from the house (less than a half mile); nowhere to stand in inclement weather (true) and danger of the intersection.  To his credit, the district superintendant actually drove by the stop this morning and spent a few minutes talking with the waiting parents.  Frankly, I said nothing since – as I told my wife later – we haven’t got a dog in that hunt and I let someone else carry the conversation.  In our view, if the school district moved the bus stop further away in an entirely different direction to save money, then we would’ve considered it as the cost of doing business.  The superintendant commiserated since he lives in the district as well and his own three kids are affected along with everyone else’s, but the point was made that cutting that mile loop saves two miles daily and with an entire fleet of buses, the cumulative savings are considerable. 

This is an open change that confronts parents directly, since many of them don’t see the other changes that confront the kids.  I neither know nor care what the response is going to be, but if this is some of the reaction from simply altering bus routes, then I can’t fathom what some of the reaction is going to be for the changes that are down the road as this ebbing tide of resources recedes further over time.

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