Brookville Area Debates Van Transportation Policy

Brookville Area High SchoolBROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – The Brookville Area School Board is considering amending its policy on van transportation of students.

The board’s transportation committee has recommended the board honor requests from parents to pick up their children, which led to more than 20 minutes of discussion during the August 17 board meeting.

School districts are not obligated by PennDOT to provide transportation for students who reside within 1.5 miles of a designated bus stop or the school building. The student’s parents or guardians must arrange for their transportation to and from the bus stop or the school, including the possibility the students can walk.

Board member Steve Neil disagreed with the transportation committee’s recommendation and said the board recently cleaned up its transportation routes by deleting, adding, and moving bus stops.

“We saved thousands of dollars because we quit picking up kids that weren’t eligible to be picked up. At one point in time we were picking up over 200 kids we shouldn’t be. If we start getting requests and start picking them up, we’ll be picking them all up. I can’t see why we should throw all that money down the drain. We should just leave it as it is. If we just say no and go by our guidelines, there is never a problem,” Neil said.

Board member Mike Smith agreed.

“Once we revamped everything, questions came up, like what if there is a handicapped bus that happens to be going back a road and there are other kids on that road can we pick them up, and we determined at that time no because those kids are supposed to walk,” Smith said.

Costs And Benefits

Board member Roberta Ganoe said transportation costs associated with a school van are eligible for reimbursement, and the school van cost no district money “in I believe five of the last nine years.”

District Business Manager Ellen Neyman said the reimbursement is “in the 70 percent range” and noted extra funding sometimes is available depending upon several factors. The reimbursements run one year behind, and last year the state ran out of money before all of the transportation funds were disbursed, which is compounded by the current state budget stalemate.

Ganoe said the board needs to look at specific areas which present unfavorable conditions for students to walk.

“We’re taking away this basic idea of getting to school safely. I am certainly not in favor of implementing a distance of 1.5 miles without looking at bad roads, secluded wooded areas, hunting zones, and things like that, because if we’re not looking at that we’re not considering the best interest of the kids,” Ganoe said.

Board members discussed PennDOT established the 1.5 mile distance and the board is working from that, but has flexibility to set its own policies.

Board member Carol Schindler said parents may not agree with PennDOT recommendations.

“Our number one job in transportation is getting our kids to and from school safely. What PennDOT deems hazardous and a parent thinks is hazardous can be two different things. Some of these roads we have all been down I can say there is no way you’d want your little child to walk down that road, but PennDOT might say it’s fine. I think we have to be flexible in our policy and constantly revisit it to make sure we serve our students and our district. We need to be looking at individual circumstances,” Schindler said.

Guidelines, But No “Official” Policy

Board president Kerith Strano-Taylor outlined the guidelines the transportation committee recommends the board use when considering parent requests. They include if a student resides more than 1.5 miles from an assigned bus stop or in an area deemed hazardous and if a van is available and has enough room for an additional passenger.

“In those cases the request may be approved. If circumstances change and the van no longer goes past that area or no longer has room, the van stop would be discontinued,” Strano-Taylor said.

Neyman said she reviews requests based upon the criteria in a letter used previously by the board, but if she declines a request, an appeal can be made to the school board.

“The transportation committee can even have eyes on the ground and go out and take a look at these stops if they feel it is warranted,” Neyman said.

Strano-Taylor recommended the board adopt an official policy.

“We need to have a set of rules, because it we don’t, we may end up treating people differently and that’s not the intention,” Strano-Taylor said.

Neyman agreed.

“Once we have that policy in place, we can rely on it and refer to it when the public wonders why we said no,” Neyman said.

District Superintendent Robin Fillman said there is a board policy on transportation, but it does not reach the level of detail discussed by the board.

“I’m thinking we may need to tie an administrative regulation to that to state what we do in-house,” Fillman said.

Board legal counsel Tom Breth recommended any alteration to a board policy which spells out a criteria should mean amending the entire policy so that requests can be handled according to the policy.

Neyman agreed to put together a draft policy and an official form for parent van transportation requests for the board’s review during its September meetings.

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