Waterloo schools to change bus policy

Photo of the Waterloo School Bus facility located off Route 3. (Teryn Schaefer photo)

The Waterloo School District is holding public meetings this week for parents concerned about a new bus policy slated for implementation next school year.

The first such meeting was held Monday night at W.J. Zahnow Elementary; the next is set for 7 p.m., Thursday at Gardner Elementary.

Last year, a decrease in state funding for transportation led to the school board deciding to cut busing of young students to daycare sites within 1.5 miles from school for 2012-13. It also eliminated bus passes for non-residence eligible students.

“It was difficult to explain busing to daycares when neighborhoods in the same area were not eligible,” Waterloo School Superintendent Jim Helton explained to the Republic-Times. “We worked with the Illinois Association of School Boards policy division in making this change within the constructs of our past practice.”

Helton said the Illinois State Board of Education, though, questioned the practice following this change, and has since instructed the district to either open up busing to allow any child in the district to be transported to a daycare facility, or change to a strict home-to-school and school-to-home policy.

“Basically, we can’t have it both ways,” Helton said.

So, starting next school year, the district will end its practice of bus passes and will provide transportation for eligible students from home-to-school and school-to-home only.

Helton explained that allowing busing for everyone becomes an “uncontrollable cost” that is financially unfeasible for the district at this time. Governor Quinn’s latest budget address reduced transportation funding from 58 to 19 percent, which would equate to a $408,000 decrease for the Waterloo School District.

“We will work with Illinois Central School Bus in re-routing and communicating changes for the 2013-14 school year,” the school district stated in a letter sent to parents last week. “The district will work to make this busing transition as smooth as possible.”

A school latchkey program, Kennel Klub, was created out of last year’s busing changes to help families affected by the initial change.

The Kennel Klub currently serves students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. Helton said the program will be extended to sixth graders next school year.

“This was a positive addition (this) school year; the district will freeze daycare rates (for next school year) and expand multi-student discounting to aid parents in this transition,” the district stated in its letter.

Helton assured parents of students affected by this change that bus drivers will still exercise the highest level of care in picking up and dropping off their child from school each day.

“We’re obviously not going to just let them off somewhere if it’s not a safe place,” he said.

In its letter, the school district apologized to parents for the new disruption in service.

“The district has limited choices. The State of Illinois is not making its transportation payments on time, nor at the full reimbursement amount; late and partial payments have put WCUSD5 in fiscal distress,” the letter states. “We must comply.”

In other school board news, a special meeting has been set for 5 p.m. Wednesday (today), for the purpose of hiring an Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations. This position was created within the district during last week’s board meeting following a 5-2 vote.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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