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Safer routes nix buses, worrying some parents

By Kim Hilsenbeck.

Students at two Hays CISD elementary schools and one middle school can look forward to a safer walk to school beginning this fall.

Improvements including a pedestrian bridge and new sidewalks will aid students from the Garlic Creek and Cullen Country neighborhoods in Buda in taking a safer route to Elm Grove Elementary. Students in Plum Creek and Hometown Kyle in Kyle will also find the same situation in getting to Negley Elementary School and Wallace Middle School, respectively. 

Those improvements, thanks to the Safe Route to Schools grant, also signal the end of school bus service to the neighborhoods, which has some parents upset. But with the routes no longer deemed hazardous by the Texas Education Code, the distance between the communities and the schools, less than two miles in each case, does not qualify for bus service now that the routes are safe to walk.

However, not all parents agree the changes, such as a pedestrian bridge, make the route safe to walk.

“Maybe I am alone in my concerns or more upset than I should be, but my child will never cross that bridge alone,” TL Jeffcoat of Garlic Creek wrote in a letter to the editor.

His son starts kindergarten in the fall. He was relying on the bus to get his child to school safely since he and his wife must be at work early. Jeffcoat is uncomfortable having his young son walk alone through the Garlic Creek and Elm Grove neighborhoods to get to school.

The change in status means state funding for the bus route also ends at the close of this school year. Schools receive reimbursement for bus service for routes where the distance is within two miles of a school where that route is not defined as hazardous. The cost to operate a bus route is anywhere from about $14,000 to $40,000 a year, according to Savoy.

He added that the change is not about saving money, but rather applying the rules uniformly. 

The Texas Education Code policy says, ‘The District shall not provide transportation to any student for whom it does not receive state transportation funds, except as required by law.’

“To continue to operate buses in the [affected]subdivisions would add expense to the budget next year, rather than save money,” Savoy said. “Then, you would also have to provide transportation to students in 16 other Hays CISD walk zones where students live within two miles of their schools, which would be a significant increase in expense.”  

A similar situation occurred at Tobias Elementary last year, though in that case, the neighborhood was across a busy highway, FM 150 east in Kyle, from the school. Installation of a traffic light and crosswalk, along with the hiring of a crossing guard, changed the status from hazardous to walk-able, thus ending bus service.

“As a parent and teacher this is very frustrating,” wrote Hays CISD teacher Alice Husted, who also lives in Garlic Creek. “This is a bad idea, and I do not like it. I do not feel that the district be allowed to make changes in this matter without telling parents.”

She clarified that she was not notified prior to the decision, but after the fact.

In letters to parents last week, district officials explained the changes, acknowledging the potential for adversity.

“This will understandably be a big change that will affect your daily routines,” the letter said. “Hopefully with this early notification, you will be able to make arrangements necessary for next school year.”

Tori Veloz, whose 12-year-old daughter goes to Wallace, is concerned about the distance her child will now have to walk.

“Unfortunately we live at the furthest point from the school that is even possible [to be within the attendance zone],” she wrote in an email.

She also said there are registered sex offenders along the way to the school.


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