FAIRVIEW PARK - Parents of 10 students attending Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland have been scrambling to get their children to classes since the district abruptly ended bus service Feb. 16.
A Feb. 5 letter dated from Fairview Park City Schools Director of Operations Michael Matthews informed parents their students were no longer eligible for bus transportation under state law. On Jan. 24, the bus route from Gilles-Sweet Elementary School to Menlo, located at West 53rd Street in Cleveland, was timed at 31 minutes, 51 seconds. Schools not operated by the district must be reachable within 30 minutes, according to state law, the letter stated.
Menlo is a public charter school for gifted learners in kindergarten through grade eight.
State rules prohibited the bus from taking the highway for the official timing run, even though the daily bus trips use the highway, Matthews later said.
The district will save just under $40,000 annually by ending the bus service to Menlo, Matthews said. That figure includes a driver's salary and benefits, fuel and maintenance costs, he said.
At the school board's Feb. 20 meeting, several Menlo parents criticized the action and asked why the bus service was discontinued in the middle of a school year.
Matthews later explained the district did not initially intend to end the service in the middle of the school year but was planning for the 2018-2019 school year. Several buses to and from the district's own schools are at capacity, Matthews said.
When Menlo moved from the former school at St. Mel Parish on Triskett Road to the former Joseph & Feiss Co. factory, it changed the starting and ending times of its school day, he said, making it impossible to combine a Menlo bus route with any other routes the district operates. The number of Menlo students taking the school bus dropped from 16 to 10 in recent months, he added.
After consulting with the Ohio School Board Association and the Ohio Department of Education, the district asked the state to conduct a timing run. The results of the run made the students immediately non-eligible for bus service, Matthews said.
Why not simply continue bus service for Menlo students for the remained of the current school year?
“It sets us up for allowing a precedence for unauthorized riders on our district,” Matthews said. “Choosing to do it for one group and not another puts us in a contradicting situation.
Matthews said the district recently rejected requests for bus service to students who live outside the district but attend Fairview Park parochial schools .
Insurance coverage was also a factor in the abrupt end of the Menlo bus service, Matthews said.
“With the designation of students being not eligible for transportation services, those students are now not covered under our liability policies,” Matthews stated in his Feb. 5 letter.
Matthews acknowledges district officials did not realize the immediate ramifications the Jan. 24 timing run would cause.
Four Menlo students in grades six through eight are still eligible for district bus service because the travel time between Lewis F. Mayer Middle School and Menlo is less than 30 minutes. But the district declared bus service to those students would not be practical and granted those students a $250 annual payment in lieu of bus service.
At its Feb. 20 meeting, the school board also authorized the $250 payment, on a prorated basis, for the remained of the school year to the elementary-school-age students whose bus service had been halted, even though the district was not required to.
At the end of the Feb. 20 school board meeting, Menlo parents huddled to discuss carpooling arrangements to get their kids to school.
Maureen Mingus, whose fourth-grader, Ellen, attends Menlo, said she thinks the matter was not handled fairly.
“They're playing to the letter of the law,” she said.
She questions why parents were not told of the Jan. 24 timing route in advance and consulted on what route to take. She also wonders why the timing route was done in the middle of winter.
The district's payment in lieu of bus service does not make it any easier for parents to rearrange schedules in the morning and at then end of the school day, Mingus said.
“We have to come up with some way to get our kids to school everyday,” she said.
For now, her husband, Jeff, is driving Ellen and another student to Menlo each day, and the other students parent is driving them home.