In a room full of concerned parents, teachers and bus drivers, Brian Burke stood behind a lectern at the Westlake Board of Education meeting Monday night, pleading for the board not to cut busing for his three kids. Burke’s children attend a private school that will no longer receive transportation support from the district.
“We are now faced with a distinct sad reality being unable to continue to send our children to the school of our choice.” Burke, a Westlake resident whose kids go to St. Angela Merici in Fairview Park, said during the meeting. “We both work full time and cannot drop off and pick up our children from school every day.”
In a special meeting on July 15, the board voted to cut busing from eight of the 13 private schools for which the district provides routes — less than a month before school begins.
The schools affected are: Albert Einstein Academy, Holy Trinity, Lake Ridge Academy, Lakewood Catholic Academy, St. Angela Merici, St. Brendan, St. Christopher and St. Paul Lutheran.
“After reviewing transportation services to those non-public schools at the end of last school year, we determined a large portion of our transportation resources were being spent on a small number of students,” district Treasurer Todd Hopkins said in a news release.
The board cited a section of the Ohio Revised Code that permits districts to deny busing to students if it’s not practical or financially responsible as the main reason for its decision.
“Under Ohio Revised Code 3327.02, public school districts are able to evaluate the option of providing transportation to non-public schools, including deeming transportation impractical,” Hopkins said.
However, many in the audience noted that the financial benefits don’t justify cutting busing for their kids.
“I’m in business… I look at spreadsheets all day long. It’s a farce,” said John Kemper, whose children are affected by the decision. “They built a lot of great schools that we all passed levies on and then said ‘We gotta cover some costs somehow.’ You have so much money going to big schools that they’re cutting out everybody all across the board.”
Notices were sent out July 18 to parents of the 174 students affected by the decision. Administrators of the schools and even the bus drivers who use these routes didn’t receive any notice, only hearing about the decision through word of mouth.
City Council member Nick Nunnari, who heard of the decision on Saturday, attended the meeting July 22 and voiced his concerns to the board.
“This has not been handled correctly,” Nunnari said. “It’s not worth ripping up a part of a community. We’re here, we are united, we need to work as one.”
The decision is based on research conducted for one week last October by the Ohio Department of Education. Results were compared with the previous five years to see if there were any outliers.
The research found that the school district was overpaying for transportation for a small number of students who received busing — by between $2,000 and nearly $24,000 per student.
While eight schools have been cut, the other five private schools that the district provides busing to will not be affected because they fell under $2,000 per student which was the requirement set for deciding whether or not a school could be bussed to, according to Hopkins. This includes Ruffing Montessori, Menlo Park, St. Bernadette, St. Raphael and Al Ihsan.
“It’s ridiculous. These people have the right to take their kids wherever they want, ” said Nunnari, who suggested that council hold an executive session this week to resolve this issue. “It’s sad that a community that is this smart and this affluent can’t figure it out without cutting last minute and affecting every one of these people.”
Parents affected by this decision, according to Hopkins, may request mediation. Once the request is processed by Superintendent Scott Goggin, a member of the Ohio Department of Education will conduct a fact-finding hearing where the applicant can state their case.
Parents also were told they would be reimbursed $250 for the inconvenience.
Despite this, many concerned parents like Burke have argued that there isn’t enough time for them to prepare.
“One month is far too little time to bring this issue to an amicable resolution, especially if mediation is the next step,” Burke said during his closing statements to the board. “We ask for collaboration, to come together with a solution and pass it. There’s still time, but not much.”
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