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How Much Bus Service Can Rockwood Afford?

A budget decision needs to be made on whether to drop service for hundreds of students as a way to cut millions of dollars in spending. The district sought input at a public budget forum.

No matter what part of the 150 square miles of the Rockwood School District one resides in, potential transportation changes are sparking conversations.

Recent discussions center on whether bus routes and overall pickup service should be altered in a major way. There is some concern among Rockwood residents that changes will result in a need for alternative transportation and pockets of traffic congestion.

Bill Sloan, Rockwood director of transportation, earlier this month issued a survey to parents of high school students with the hope of planning better bus routes for the 2011-12 school year.

"Historically, Rockwood has always picked up students within about a mile from schools," Sloan said. "Although, in the last eight to nine years, we've picked up students within a half-mile of schools, mostly due to so many parents working. Our community asked us to pick up more and more kids over time, often due to safety reasons."

Although Sloan indicated a Missouri mandate requires school districts to provide bus transportation for students who live 3.5 miles and beyond from school buildings, he said Rockwood recognized that bus transportation was preferable to students navigating the district's rugged roadways or those without sidewalks.

Sloan said 2,490 households responded to the transportation survey, which was similar to the survey conducted last year. Rockwood high schools, including in Chesterfield, represent approximately 7,550 students overall.

Of those parents who responded, 80 percent indicated their students would use buses both to and from school and that 86 percent of high school students would ride buses four to five days each week.

Sloan said among respondents, 683 households indicated their high schooler would not ride a bus.

"The biggest transportation inefficiencies occur on the outskirts of our district, such as in Eureka and Fenton where residences are spread out," Sloan said. "However, time is the critical factor each school morning, with most of the buses running a three-tiered system of delivering students."

He said bus drivers barely have enough time to drop off middle school students around 7:15 a.m. before picking up high schoolers and getting them to school by 8:10 a.m., followed by picking up elementary students and delivering them by 8:50 a.m.

"We just can't fill up every bus to the max under this type of time schedule," said Sloan, who sometimes rides entire bus routes himself to personally evaluate details.

Some Bus Transportation May Be Dropped in 2012-2013

Eliminating bus transportation within the immediate radius of Rockwood schools is one of the proposed items on a list of 20 budget options under consideration for cuts in the 2012-13 school year.

Increasing the distance to 2.5 miles before bus service is provided is projected to save $1.5 million. Another $1.5 million is saved if that distance is further increased to 3.5 miles.

At a meeting at in Elisville last week to gain public input, some people were concerned about dropping bus service to Rockwood students less than 3.5 miles from school buildings.

Bill Wilkins, of Wildwood, said changing current bus transportation arrangements would affect the entire neighborhood around in several negative ways. "It would create a logistical nightmare (if students from the Wildhorse subdivision) couldn't ride the bus," he said.

Wilkins estimated that dropping bus coverage to those living within 2.5 miles of Chesterfield Elementary would cause 95 percent of the students' families there to drive to school, which would cause quite a traffic jam twice daily.

Wilkins said he lives two miles from the school. He said when he asked questions at the transportation discussion table, he was told that of the 8,800 Rockwood elementary students, only 1,400 get bus service.

Charyl April 25, 2011 at 06:22 PM
I don't know where all these bus riding high school students are coming from. Have you seen the parking lots at Marquette and Lafayette? The high school bus in my neighborhood is empty. No one but freshmen would be caught dead riding the bus.

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