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Bus change under fire; decision delayed

February 10, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- A plan to provide transportation for students only to their home schools next year was halted Monday. During the Feb. 8 board meeting, parents, local daycare providers, and a district bus driver were among those who voiced their opposition to a finance committee recommendation to stop transportation for in-district transfers. The move would save the district at least $12,000 and reduce by 15-20 minutes the longest bus rides.

Several parents protested that the district would stand to lose much more than they would save, however, due to students leaving to attend schools in nearby communities that offer more latchkey options or transportation to childcare. "Every other district offers latchkey or nearby daycare," said Laura Minor, a working parent who needs before and after school childcare.

"They have managed to find ways to transport (their students)." Minor's children currently attend Oakwood Elementary and are bused to and from Stepping Stone Child Development Center before and after school. Under the new plan, only students from Harvey Swanson would be offered bus transportation to Stepping Stone. Students from Belle Ann would have the option to be bused to and from Ortonville Montessori and Oakwood students, with no public daycare nearby, would only have the option of private daycare within the school's boundaries. Pam Flood is a home daycare provider living within Oakwood's boundaries. She noted that the district would stand to lose three of the children she cares for to other districts— a potential loss of almost $22,000. Mary Wilcox, owner of Ortonville Montessori, pleaded with the boardmembers to continue transportation to all the daycares, saying the move has the potential to affect 45 children receiving before and/or after school care.

"When we moved here, there was schools of choice, and choice of daycare," said one mother at the meeting.

"You are taking away my right to decide what is bestů We are comfortable with the school and teachers I know. What kind of repercussions will there be fore my child who has to go to a school where they don't know anyone? Think outside of the money and (consider) the repercussions for the whole community."

Under the proposed plan, students would still be able to attend the elementary school of their choice, but if it is not their home school, they would have to supply their own transportation. Kathy Evans, a district bus driver, said she is concerned about safety, with more parents driving their own children and Kris MacQueen, noted that at Belle Ann Elementary, where her children are students, drivers are out in the street with nowhere to go when it is time to pick-up or drop-off their children.

"How much worse it is going to be if we have more people driving?" she asked. Superintendent Lorrie McMahon explained that the district has major financial problems, caused in part by a decreasing student population that was not due to busing changes. "We have studied bus routes, and looked very hard at the most efficient way to do this," she said. Boardmember Greg Allar agreed. "We have done everything to examine every issue," he said.

"This whole financial quagmire gives the opportunity for the community to work together. Cuts are inevitably coming. The alternatives aren't better elsewhere, (all districts) are in similar circumstances. We're not heroes, we're sorry about that." The issue of transportation will be discussed at the next finance committee meeting, planned for 5 p.m., Feb. 16 at the central district office, 1025 S. Ortonville Road.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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