The Oregon school board on Tuesday agreed to fund limited transportation for Clay High School students.
The shuttle service will start in January, according to school board President Eric Heintschel.
“We’re going to implement busing in a limited capacity,” said Heintschel on Wednesday.
“Strategically, we’re going to pick a couple of spots in the community - more centralized locations – to pick up students,” he said. The cost to the district ranges between 40,000-$50,000 for part of the year.
“When you figure it’s for half a year, if we annualize it, we would basically double the cost if we keep the service,” he said.
The school board earlier this year eliminated bus service for high school students to cut costs.
Parents in the district criticized the board last month for approving administrative pay hikes when programs for students, particularly transportation service for the high school, have been cut or eliminated to cut costs as the result of a shrinking budget that is expected to get smaller in the coming years.
Parents packed a school board meeting on Oct. 18 to vent their anger at the board and Superintendent Dr. Mike Zalar, whose annual salary jumped from $116,965 to $130,221 as part of the administrative pay increases the board had approved on Aug. 16. The Oregon City Federation of Teachers was also disappointed, since it had negotiated concessions in salaries and benefits for teachers in July that had saved the district $3 million, though teachers will still receive pay raises called “step” increases that will cost the district $400,000.
At the October meeting, Heintschel said the board would revisit the busing issue.
School officials recently put together a survey that asked high school students whether they would use transportation service in the district, said Heintschel. Out of a student body of approximately 1,200, 350 students said they would use such a service.
“Dr. Zalar, Dean Sandwisch, our business manager, and Terry Huss, our transportation director, put the survey together to gauge what level of service we would need to provide. Getting number of 350 at least gives us a baseline of where to start,” said Heintschel. “We’ll look through the logistics of it. We’re going to base our shuttle service off that number, then see what the response is. If we get more, then we’ll adjust it from there.”
Heintschel said there were several reasons to reinstate transportation for high school students.
“We just decided the timing was right to at least try and get some busing back for the high school students. In my comments at the last board meeting, a lot of people were upset about the decisions that we had made regarding the teachers’ new contract with step increases and the administrative raises. But this has been a process of prioritizing where we need to start putting things back in. Now that the cuts have taken place, we’re in a better financial position. Now that we have the teachers’ contract renewed and the steps are in place, and we’ve got the administrative contracts renewed, we’re in a stable position. So we needed to start looking at programs. Based on community feedback, busing was the first program we needed to make a priority and that’s why we decided to act on it sooner rather than later.”
Jeff Ziviski, who was elected to the school board on Tuesday, said busing for high school students should never have been eliminated.
“I don’t know why it was ever eliminated completely. You would have thought they would have had this shuttle as an option and an alternative rather than use it as a threat to get a levy passed,” said Ziviski. “The shuttle system was the obvious alternative to cutting it completely. They could have had this back when they had decided to eliminate it and avoided the whole controversy. The shuttle is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the ultimate solution. We need to get busing back entirely and make the situation right.”