L. Carol Ritchie
Update (Aug. 17, 9:45p.m.): APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia corrected his earlier number and said about 9,000 students will walk and 14,000 will ride the bus.
More than a handful of parents at the Arlington Public School board meeting last night blasted a plan that would shift some students from bus riders to walkers. The parents cited safety concerns and late notification.
"My children took the bus to school, yesterday. I got a call, and now they're walkers," said Esther Swartz during the community forum on the issue.
Parents who live within a mile of a public school were notified by letter Aug. 15 that their students will be walking.
"If we were going to go further with our modernization process...we knew there was something we had to do," said Clarence Stukes, the assistant superintendent for facilities and operations. He introduced the new plan.
The plans stem from a report late last year that said the increase in the number of students in Arlington has been a driving force behind the strain on the bus system.
A recommendation from that report was an emphasis on walk- and bike-to-school options. (Read the Mercury story here.)
The same number of buses will handle 1,000 more children than the system currently handles. Yet that is because about half the students in the system will be walking.
The school system for the 2012-13 year has more than 22,600 students, but staff believes enrollment will reach higher than 22,700.
Because students are still registering, the number of walkers versus riders is not known, said Frank Bellavia, the school spokesperson. About 9,000 students rode the bus last year.
This year, "it's probably going to be higher than that 9,000 number," Bellavia said. "They're still figuring out routes and bus stops, and kids are still registring."
Update: Frank Bellavia corrected his earlier number and said about 9,000 students will walk and 14,000 will ride the bus.
The plan uses a new computer program that makes the routes more efficient. It replaces a decades-old manual format.
This also accounts for the mile-walker rule.
Board member Todd McCracken remarked that a bus and driver cost $190,000, and board member Abby Raphael called the process part of the school system's "growing pains."
But parents at the meeting were not convinced, wondering if the board was sacrificing safety to save money.
Parents listed their issues: lack of traffic officers, missing sidewalks, long distances and traffic accidents they had seen on their students’ paths to school.