Following the Sept. 21 Canfield Board of Education meeting, more bus routes were listed for investigation. Several parents were concerned about the safety of various stops as the district attempts to fine-tune the new routes.
“Rich Archer (business manager) rode a bus this morning,” said Superintendent Dante Zambrini on Sept.28. “Last night I drove a township road to see the location of a stop before we recommend changing stops.”
Archer said the schools made a reduction of five bus drivers to stay within the budget after voters twice failed to pass a 6.8 mill levy. With the failure of that levy, the school board had to make cuts in staff and programs. Archer said 25 support staff positions were eliminated as well as the bus drivers that were let go.
To deal with the fewer bus drivers, routes were reinvented using a computer program. That program looked for the most efficient routes and stops using the remaining drivers.
“Unfortunately, the computer program doesn’t take into account the human element,” he said.
He said the one main object that is a priority is the safety of the children. With that in mind, Archer and Zambrini have been looking into the various routes to see if a better alternative is possible. Archer has been riding the buses while Zambrini has been physically driving the routes and looking at the bus stops up close.
“We have already made some changes in stops,” Archer said. “We are trying to make it as fair as possible for all the kids in a neighborhood.”
He is also taking suggestions from the bus drivers and parents into consideration before settling on a change.
This November, the school board has voted to put a 4.9 mill levy before voters that would restore a lot of stops for the kindergarten through eighth grade bus riders. Archer said it will bring back four, and possibly five, bus drivers. Included in the plan that the board agreed on is also the restoration of transportation for CHS band members to travel to away games.
The levy, if approved, would not restore the district to the same levels it had in the past, but would instead maintain the levels of staff and course offerings the district has in place this year. It could make it possible to reinstate select programs and services that were previously reduced.
“With the failure of past levies and significant reductions in state funding, no new funds were available to the district for the entire 2011 school year,” Zambrini said. “With the passage of the November 2011 operating levy, the district would receive new local funds for 2012.”
He said this year, the district was able to maintain teachers and programs because of the district and labor organizations that helped make a significant savings.
“This past summer, the district met with labor organizations to modify current contracts and mutually agreed to wage and salary step freezes and increased insurance premiums that resulted in savings of $1.9 million over the next three years,” Zambrini said. “These concessions coupled with previous reductions (all totaling $3.7 million in savings) have allowed the board to lower the levy request to 4.9 mills.”
He said the new funds would retain teacher positions that have already been scheduled to be eliminated in the spring of 2012. Archer added that without the levy, next school year (2012-13) would see significant reductions in the teaching staff, much larger class sizes, and a possible move to a two-mile radius for bus service.
“Some say we are threatening voters by talking about staff and services reductions,” Archer said. “We are not threatening. We are simple stating what will need to take place to stay within the budget should the levy fail.”
Zambrini said the 4.9-mill levy is critical in preventing the district from further reductions that could affect classrooms. He said it won’t bring it back to the level it was at a few years ago.
“Six point eight mills was needed. However, after the reductions in force (layoffs), previous cost reductions, and the concessions taken by all school employees, (this past summer) the millage was reduced,” he said. “Voters twice rejected the 6.8 levy; therefore, the board decided to lower the millage. However, not all can be restored because 4.9 does not bring in what 6.8 would have supported.”
If passed in November, the levy would not reinstate high school busing, but it would have a positive impact on busing for the lower grades and the band. While the levy is a big concern for Archer and Zambrini, they both said they will continue to ride and drive the bus routes and will continue to tweak the system to make bus stops safer for the children.