Wichita schools could save as much as $3.7 million next school year by changing start times at nine schools and eliminating thousands of bus rides for students who no longer qualify for hazardous-route transportation, officials said Monday.
Schools that could start at 7 a.m. this fall include three K-8 schools – Gordon Parks Academy, Horace Mann and Christa McAuliffe – and Robinson Middle School, home to a districtwide pre-International Baccalaureate magnet program.
The district also could move up start times at five special-program or alternative schools – Chisholm Life Skills, Gateway, Greiffenstein, Sowers and Wells – to reduce the number of buses and cut its transportation budget.
The nine schools currently start at 8 a.m.
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“These are just ideas. Nothing is final,” transportation director Fabian Armendariz told Wichita school board members on Monday.
The board is looking to trim between $16 million and $30 million from next year’s budget. Board members asked Wichita superintendent John Allison to return to the board with specific recommendations in coming weeks.
Armendariz said transportation costs are expected to rise next year, in part because the new Southeast High School at 129th Street East and Pawnee could require 19 additional buses, at a cost of nearly $800,000.
Earlier start times at more schools would allow the district to more evenly distribute riders and make the most of its transportation dollars, he said.
The board also may consider eliminating bus rides for 2,185 students who no longer qualify for rides under the district’s policy on hazardous-route transportation.
According to a district report presented Monday, 22 Wichita schools would lose some or all of their buses if officials cancel routes that no longer meet criteria outlined in the policy. That would force students who live within 2.5 miles of their assigned schools to walk or find rides to school starting this fall.
Armendariz did not name schools that would be affected.
But he cited Gammon Elementary, near 29th Street North and Woodlawn, as an example of a school where students currently ride buses despite living within 2.5 miles of school and no longer qualifying for hazardous-route transportation.
Although K-96 splits Gammon’s attendance area, recent improvements to underpasses at Woodlawn and Rock Road have improved walking conditions and would allow students living north of K-96 to walk to school, Armendariz said.
He noted that some students who attend Dodge Elementary, near Second and West streets, cross the intersection of Central and I-235 – a busy highway similar to K-96 – on their walk to school.
“There are numerous examples of situations like this throughout the city, where there are students that are walking under some conditions yet students in other parts of the city are receiving transportation,” Armendariz said.
Allison said a committee of district and building administrators has spent the past two years analyzing routes and evaluating whether they still meet the hazardous-route criteria.
“So really, we’re looking at bringing our schools into compliance with our policy that’s been around for a long time?” asked board member Sheril Logan.
“Yes,” Aremendariz answered.
Board member Lynn Rogers said the board can expect some push-back from families who might lose bus transportation or have to get their kids to school earlier.
“These changes will be painful if it affects your child and your school. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Rogers said. “That’s going to be a change for families.”
But as the district tries to cut costs, “We’re looking at all these things,” Rogers said. “We want to see what can be the least painful for our community.”