Parents get first look at changes to bus plan at Grass Valley School District public forum
More than 70 parents filled the multipurpose room at Scotten School Wednesday night to learn more about proposed changes to the Grass Valley School District’s bus plan for the 2016-2017 school year.
The changes are expected to come at an increased cost to the district, and could alter the start of the school day for students — something district Superintendent Eric Fredrickson acknowledged is a “real challenge” for the district community.
“My mission is, how do we in the Grass Valley School District absorb a huge hit like this,” Fredrickson told those gathered for the district-hosted public forum.
The Grass Valley School District is being forced to re-examine its current bus plan due to a schedule change the Nevada Joint Union High School District is implementing next year. Starting next fall, students at Bear River and Nevada Union high schools will start school at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. — a move the high school district says is in line with research supporting the physical and mental health benefits of more sleep for teens.
That change affects the Grass Valley School District because it shares buses with the high school district — a long-standing arrangement designed to save both districts some money. The Grass Valley School District currently pays around $351,000 annually to Durham Transportation for bus services.
But when the high school district switches to a later first bell, schools in the Grass Valley School District, which start between 8:30 and 9 a.m., will no longer be able to share those buses.
On Wednesday, Fredrickson walked parents through the alternative transportation scenarios the district is exploring for the next school year.
All of the scenarios would cost the district more money — anywhere from an estimated additional $31,000 annually to an additional $345,000 annually; according to district estimates, it would cost the district around $796,000 yearly to retain its current 11 bus routes.
Most of the scenarios would require the district to alter its start times — the most drastic of those changes is a scenario in which the district’s K-4 schools and 5-8 school would start up to an hour and a half apart.
And several of the scenarios explore the Grass Valley School District sharing buses with the Nevada City and Penn Valley Union Elementary school districts. Those options would save all three districts money, but would likely also require all three districts to alter their start times — something that would have to be negotiated with the districts’ staff and vetted by those communities. That type of coordination between districts can become complicated, Fredrickson cautioned parents.
“I have to rely on what another district is doing to be able to make a decision,” Fredrickson said.
For the Grass Valley School District parents and staff members who showed up to Wednesday’s meeting, the prospect of diverting funding away from school programs to cover increased transportation costs and of adjusting student schedules raised concerns.
Several parents were especially vocal about the potential transportation scenario that would have the district’s K-4 students starting school at 7:45 a.m. and the district’s 5-8 grade students starting school at 9:15 a.m.
“I know it would make me crazy, and I know it’s going to make a lot of the parents crazy,” said parent Desiree Ince. “You’re going to have to juggle how do you get two separate kids to school at two separate times”
Jenn Vielhauer, who works as an aide at Lyman Gilmore Middle School and is also a parent with children in both the Grass Valley and Nevada Joint Union High school districts, agreed, noting the consequences of that change could be drastic for the Grass Valley School District.
“I think we’ll lose families in the district because they’re not going to be willing to deal with that,” Vielhauer said.
Though Fredrickson stressed that the high school district and the Grass Valley district have a close relationship and have always been supportive of each other, several of those who attended the public forum questioned whether the high school district made enough of an effort to examine the later start time’s effects on its feeder schools — or solicit input from that community — before its board of trustees approved the change last May.
“I don’t think they took that into consideration, how it was going to affect other schools,” said parent Cynthia Harding. “One school is affecting all of these schools.”
Wednesday’s public forum was the first opportunity for members of the Grass Valley School District community to give input on the topic. Fredrickson said he plans to send out staff and parent surveys on the different transportation scenarios at the end of February; he noted the district will continue examining and discussing its options for the next several months. The district’s board of trustees is expected to vote on a final transportation plan when it approves the school’s Local Control Accountability and Plan in June.
In addition to providing feedback to Grass Valley School District officials, Fredrickson encouraged parents to share concerns and feedback with the high school district at one of several upcoming town hall meetings the district is having in February to discuss priorities for next school year.
Several parents in the audience echoed that sentiment, vowing to rally together to make their opinions heard.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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