Proceed with caution in school bus changes

newsroom@islandpacket.comApril 24, 2014 

It's good to see the Beaufort County School District looking for ways to cut costs, including making bus routes more efficient.

The district anticipates needing as much as $10 million more in its budget for the next fiscal year. Thus, it is vital that district leaders prove they are good stewards of the tax dollars they have already received and that district programs, schools and services are operating at optimal efficiency.

An audit of the routes has district officials mulling whether to consolidate bus stops within large, gated communities. Students in these private communities currently receive the equivalent of door-to-door service, said superintendent Jeff Moss.

Instead, the district is considering establishing one or two locations that serve as bus stops for the each community. Students would either walk or parents would drive them to these centralized stops each school morning.

The change would save the district on fuel costs while also shortening route times, meaning students would spend less time on buses each day.

It would also mean shrinking down the $7 million currently budgeted for transportation next school year, a figure that reflects rising gas prices and a growing student body. Just how much could be saved by the changes is yet to be determined.

We urge the district to proceed with caution.

During the winter months, many students already stand outside in the dark, waiting to catch a bus. It can be a long, cold wait, as we learned this past winter with its low temperatures and ice. Requiring additional children to walk greater distances in dim light or low temperatures to catch a ride is inherently dangerous. The district would be wise to set new parameters that ensure no child is forced to walk an excessive distance.

Additionally, much care should be taken in establishing the pickup spots within the communities. Adequate lighting as well as parking/turnaround space for parents who drop their children off at the sites should be considered. And high-traffic areas should be avoided.

Surely, the change will be an extra burden on parents who rely on the buses because they lack the time, means or desire to drive their children to school themselves. Scaling back bus routes should not render the transportation system useless to those who rely on it most.

The district has much to consider as it proceeds with this transportation change. While efficiency should always be a priority, so is student safety. It's up to the district to figure out how to balance the two.

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