JOHNSTOWN — The Northridge school board hit a bump in the road at its Tuesday night meeting, opting to table rather than pass a safe bus stop resolution.
The measure, drawn up by the district’s counsel, would have affirmed the district’s practice of establishing bus stops farther than the maximum distance allowed by Ohio law by citing the district’s legal responsibility to transport students safely.
The Ohio Administrative Code section 3301-83-13 stipulates that students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade be required to walk no more than one half mile to the nearest bus stop. But the same section also requires schools to provide for the “maximum safety” of students when establishing bus stops.
In the Northridge district, these two requirements seem to contradict each other. The district resolution cited the maximum safety requirement as its reason for placing bus stops at the nearest intersections on Lookers Lane, Kent Lane NE and Melick Road NE rather than picking up students at home. Buses do not currently drive on the three unpaved, dead end roads because turning the bus around is nearly impossible.
Pam Cheadle, who oversees transportation for the district, supported the resolution, stating it was the best way to ensure the safety of the children she transports.
“The three roads that we’re talking about today absolutely need to be deemed not safe,” said Cheadle, who is the general manager of Petermann Bus Garage in Johnstown. “Going down single lane roads in pitch dark and trying to turn a 34-foot-long bus around in a spot that’s not even big enough for a vehicle to turn around in — it’s just not what I want my drivers to do.”
Cheadle stated that there are currently only two students living on the roads in question who take the bus to a Northridge school. Both were present at the board meeting, along with their parents, Matt Price and Melissa Collene.
Price and Collene purchased a home on Lookers Lane last summer, unaware that the nearest bus stop is a mile from their house. Most days Collene will wait with the girls in the morning and leave work to take them home in the afternoon, but she can’t always make it.
“They’ve had to walk home multiple times,” Collene told the board. “Their safety is important to me but I can’t always be there … one day it was pouring down rain, they had to walk all the way home.”
Collene noted that one of her daughters has difficulty walking and that her individualized education plan (IEP) advises she not walk long distances.
She also said she’d talked with other Northridge parents and claimed that some will not vote for the upcoming levy because they are unhappy with the district’s bussing system.
“I will absolutely support this levy if I feel like someone supports my family,” she said. “I totally get the safety issue … We just want to come up with solutions.”
Discussions between the family and school superintendent have been ongoing since the beginning of the school year. Schmidt said that at this point, the district does not have smaller vehicles that could pick up the students.
“The family is definitely willing to work with us, there’s just not an easy solution at this point,” said Schmidt.
It’s not the first time the district has dealt with bussing problems, but the board says its the first time in years that students have lived on Looker Lane.
“Transportation has continued to get more and more complicated over the years,” said Hart. “Being a district of our size, we’re one of the highest route miles, I think, in the state, but we’re still, in terms of route numbers, we’re nowhere close to that.”
Hart stated that while modern school buses are lighter and more fuel efficient, they have less traction as a result, compounding the issues of driving on rough country roads.
“By no means are these three roads the worst roads in our district … but we can drive through the majority of them. As long as we have the momentum to go forward, we can make it,” said Cheadle.
Cheadle also stated that there are certain families who sometimes have to drop their children off at alternate bus stops when winter storms or flooding make it unsafe for buses to travel to their homes.
Burlington Township Trustee Bradford McDaniel disagreed about road conditions in the area, saying that the roads are well maintained, especially compared to some neighboring townships.
“Our roads are in better shape now than they have been in 20 years,” said McDaniel. “The school bus used to go down all these roads.”
According to McDaniel, Melick and Kent are tar-and-chip roads and Lookers Lane is a dirt road. McDaniel said that Lookers is in line for ditching and elevation. It could possibly be tar-and-chipped in the future, though no specific plans have been made.
McDaniel said he would love to widen the roads, but that the township doesn’t have the necessary easements.
The school board ultimately tabled the resolution in order to continue the conversation with township officials and parents who live on the affected streets. While Price and Collene’s daughters are currently the only children affected, there are other school-aged children who live on the roads.
The board also approved the following:
•A $2,000 donation for new theater lights from the Northridge Music Boosters.
•Various field trips.
•Various supplemental coach and coordinator positions and athletic volunteers.
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