Risky walk for some Derby students

About 30 Derby school district students, some as young as kindergartners, might have to cross K-15, a railroad track and 47th Street South to get to school in the fall.

That's because the district, responding to state budget cuts, will no longer bus students who live less than 2 1/2 miles from the schools they attend. The change starts next school year.

Oaklawn neighborhood leaders and parents will meet again next week with district representatives and other officials to try to find a solution.

Kansas schools are not required to bus students who live within 2 1/2 miles of the school they attend. To save money in response to state budget cuts, the Derby district earlier this year opted to stop busing such students beginning this fall.

That includes about 30 students who live in Deer Lakes Estates and would have to cross K-15 — a four-lane highway — 47th Street South and a railroad track to get to Oaklawn Elementary School, said Oaklawn Improvement District treasurer Andree Sisco.

The move will save $30,000 next school year, part of an overall budget reduction plan, assistant superintendent of human resources Heather Bohaty said.

Bohaty said the Derby school board weighed a lot of factors, including safety, when it decided to cut routes.

But Sisco isn't convinced.

"In my opinion, they need to look at other cuts," Sisco said. "I don't want children out there walking."

Sisco said the decision also affects students at Pleasantview Elementary, El Paso Elementary and the Derby Sixth Grade Center, among others.

She said the Oaklawn area is low-income, and some parents won't have transportation to take their children to school. That could affect attendance and lead to truancy, she said.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Gwen Welshimer, whose district includes Derby, also is concerned about children having to walk to school — or not going at all.

"It's a serious thing," she said last week.

A Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office major provided Sisco with numbers from a 2006 Kansas Department of Transportation study that show the following traffic counts for that area in an average 24-hour period.

About 27,000 vehicles travel K-15 near 47th South each day. Another 10,000 to 18,000 cross K-15 on 47th South each day.

From 2007 through April of this year, the sheriff's office handled 15 accidents on K-15 from the 4200 block south to the 5300 block south and 34 accidents on 47th Street South from the 3600 block east to the 4300 block east.

Welshimer plans to attend the June 8 meeting, she said. Bohaty said the school district will have a representative at the meeting as well.

Sisco said she has four grandchildren who live at Deer Lakes Estates and go to Oaklawn Elementary. She said she will make sure they don't have to walk.

"Putting children out on K-15 and 47th Street is not something I can do," she said.

Sisco said she had attended every school board meeting since the decision in March and organized a petition drive.

She said she understands it's not the district's intent to "put kids on the street," but she also said "it's not the right thing to do."

There are no crosswalks for children who would be walking to Oaklawn Elementary from Deer Lakes, she said.

"It's not a matter of walking," she said. "There's no signage, no crosswalks, and you've got train tracks. It's just not smart. When the rubber hits the road, there will be kids who are out there walking."

The district has bused children in the affected areas for at least 15 years, Bohaty said.

In making cuts, the board "looked at areas that would have the least educational impact on students," she said. "We also looked at our strategic plan and outcomes and at required state and federal mandates."

The district has planned just less than $600,000 in cuts for next school year. The district also made about $714,000 in cuts midyear this past school year.

To ensure a balanced budget for next year, the district will need to make another $500,000 in cuts to make up the money through its reserve contingency fund, Bohaty said.

Don Winton, president of the Oaklawn Improvement District board, said he is particularly worried that children who live near the south entrance to Deer Lakes will take a shortcut to school that could prove dangerous.

The board will meet at 2 p.m. June 8 with the district and representatives from the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office and others at its office at 2937 Oaklawn Drive.

Welshimer said she is trying to think of options.

"I'd like to ask the school district to put that area in a different elementary school so they are more than 2 1/2 miles away," she said.

That likely won't be possible, she said, so it's important "to talk with the families and see if they can arrange carpooling and that kind of thing."