23 Jul Westlake Board of Education cuts bus transportation to 8 pr…
WESTLAKE, Ohio — Parents of children in private and parochial schools in the Westlake area expressed their shock and alarm Monday (July 22) that bus routes are being canceled for eight of 13 non-public schools.
The decision to drop the routes came on July 15 at a special Westlake City Schools Board of Education meeting, where it was determined that the district was spending too much on transportation.
A notice was sent out the next day to parents of students attending Albert Einstein Academy, Holy Trinity, Lake Ridge Academy, Lakewood Catholic Academy, St. Angela Merici, St. Brendan, St. Christopher and St. Paul Lutheran schools.
The district will continue to provide bus transportation to students attending Menlo Park Academy, Ruffing Montessori, Al Ihsan/Birchwood, St. Bernadette and St. Raphael schools.
Total transportation costs for the school system for the current fiscal year, as of June 30, were $3,466,000, according to district Treasurer Todd Hopkins. Cost savings from cutting transportation for the eight schools totals $300,000.
Schools Superintendent Scott Goggin said: “We evaluated the costs and routes. When you look at this process, we have considered merging routes, but it becomes very complicated, because you can have schools with similar start times — one group showing up early or, potentially, late to different schools.
“Some also have different calendars, so we could be running six buses with half the number of students. The less efficient we become in running that route, the less people ride — and does it affect the numbers of riders who are already riding a different bus?”
Approximately 50 people attended the Monday night school board meeting. They appeared to be mostly upset because they had received a letter about the decision only about a month out from the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
School begins this year on Aug. 29 for grades one through 12, Sept. 3 for pre-kindergarten and Sept. 5 for kindergarten.
Monday’s meeting was a regularly scheduled school board meeting, but the board voted to move up the treasurer’s report to the beginning to allow those present to speak. They projected on a large screen the spreadsheet that was included with the letter.
Hopkins explained the overall goal was to be financially responsible. Some of the considerations in the board’s evaluation included:
• The time and distance required to provide the transportation
• The number of pupils to be transported
• The cost of providing transportation in terms of personnel, equipment, maintenance and administration
The spreadsheet showed the costs, according to Hopkins, “of transport to each of our non-public schools, ranging from approximately $2,200 to over $23,000 per actual bus rider. This compares to the five-year average cost of $1,598.20 to transport a student to our own buildings.”
He also noted, “During a review of transportation services for non-public students, the district opted to deem those services impractical for schools that have a cost of 125 percent or more than the Westlake average of about $1,600.”
The conclusion was that the cost for transportation for the eight named schools was “deemed impractical,” he said.
Parents are being offered a $250 reimbursement each year for each child due to the cancellation of bus service, and there is an appeals process outlined if they do not accept the reimbursement offer.
Hopkins said it is the standard amount allowed by the State of Ohio. Also, by law, he said, transportation for individual students will continue through the mediation/hearing process.
Approximately 15 people addressed the board members and Goggin. The questions and comments heard most often included the following. Hopkins answered all those below for this interview except the final question, which Goggin responded to.
• Why now? “We are constantly trying to find a way to be more fiscally efficient,” Hopkins said. “At the end of the school year, we evaluated the numbers and brought them to board. It’s a $300,000 annual savings. We wanted to be sure we were fiscally responsible to all taxpayers and we were trying to give as much notice as we possibly could.”
• What changed? “Nothing has changed. Some may perhaps be alluding to the new school. (It all came down to) a significant amount of resources being spent on actual riders. It could be an area to be a large economic savings. The only change is that we started using some new business routing software and it just showed up as a large amount of resources spent on a small amount of actual riders.”
• Why only about one-month notice? “As we worked through the process at the end of the school year, we tried to work through it as fast as we could. We did a fiscal analysis and reviewed it at two board meetings, the first being in June. The process determined the timeline.”
• Why were principals of the schools not notified at all? “We apologize for that. That was an oversight. We realized it on July 18, and the director of transportation, Gavin Berwald, emailed the principals of the schools the same day.”
• Why weren’t we given the chance to see if we could help alleviate some of the costs? “Scott (Hopkins) was handling the technical process with the letters,” said Goggin. “I took a lot of great suggestions down yesterday, I am reaching out to some of the administrators of some of the schools and we have some ideas, too. And along with those comments presented last night, we will be discussing those with some of the principals of the eight schools. We need to take stock: Do we really have enough people to run those routes? We need to review the information from the families from the letter to determine how many students actually want to ride.”
After the meeting, Robert and Lynn Hayes, residents of Westlake,…