ELKHART -- Next week 1,400 students who had previously ridden the bus to school will walk instead.
Over the summer, Elkhart Community Schools officials have been preparing to implement the walk zone shift that was announced by the district in May. And in preparation for Tuesday's first day of school there are a few things they would like students, parents and residents to keep in mind.
Jodee Shaw, communications coordinator for ECS, has been fielding calls from concerned parents. Many of them don't want their children to have to walk to school and some are offering suggestions on alternate ways for the district to save money.
One caller suggested that the district stop mowing buildings' lawns during the summer months.
"The point that we try to make is it doesn't matter whether or not we cut the lawns because that's a different budget," Shaw said. "We still can't pick up his child."
LIKE IT OR NOT, THE CHANGE IS NECESSARY
The change in walk zone boundaries, which remain one mile for elementary school students and will extend to two miles for secondary students, comes from the district's need to cut $1 million from its transportation budget. The push to save is a result of the cap on property taxes which supply the district's transportation fund.
Last year the district examined several methods that had the potential to save the district money, including changing school bell times. Ultimately it was determined that shifting bell times would raise too many issues to be dealt with in short order.
In May, Doug Hasler, executive director of support services, said enforcing walk zones would save the district about $200,000. He said additional cost-cutting measures will likely be examined this year as well.
"We simply can't afford to keep things the way they are, so we have to reduce our services," Shaw said. "We wish we didn't have to."
SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Shaw said that a number of school maps have been moved because of safety considerations. Updated maps were posted on ECS's web site -- www.elkhart.k12.in.us -- July 31. Some bus routes have also been consolidated, meaning some students who were once picked up in front of their house may have to walk a few blocks to new stops.
Post cards have been sent to parents with updated bus stop information. Parents with students who will be impacted by the walk zone changes have also been mailed notifications.
John Moran, assistant director of transportation for ECS, said drivers have been out learning new routes and introducing themselves to kindergartners and other first-time students. Moran said parents of first-time students that haven't heard from a bus driver but believe they're eligible for transport should call 262-5695.
HOW TO GET TO AND FROM SCHOOL SAFELY
Shaw said several things have been done and can be done to ensure kids are safe going to and coming from school.
The district has worked with the city to slightly increase the number of crossing guards. Shaw encouraged parents to walk the route to school with their children before Tuesday. It's also helpful to establish safe places such as neighbors or relatives children can go to along the way if they don't feel safe.
Shaw also suggested that parents look into forming walking school buses -- groups of a dozen or so children walked to school by a rotating set of parents.
Even those without children in school can play a role in helping students get to school safely. Shaw encouraged residents to step out on their porches during the first days back to school to keep an eye on kids, making sure they're getting to school without incident.
Moran echoed the need for neighborly help, reminding drivers that after Tuesday the streets may have more children walking on them.
Getting there safely
Regardless of where your children go to school, there are steps that can be taken to make sure they get where theyâre going safely.
If you have children walking to school:
â¢ Walk the route with your child to make sure they know how to get where theyâre going.
â¢ Establish safe spots along the route â” friends or neighbors that your child can go to if they donât feel safe.
â¢ Consider forming âwalking school buses.â Form a group of about a dozen students that can walk to school together, and have the studentsâ parents take turns walking with them to school.
â¢ Use sidewalks where theyâre available. If no sidewalks are available, walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic.
â¢ Obey all traffic signals and signs.
If you have children riding the bus to school:
â¢ Make sure your child is ahead of time to the bus stop.
â¢ Children should never run to or from the bus.
â¢ Children need to stand back from the curb of the bus stop and should always wait for the driverâs signal before crossing the street to get on the bus. When crossing, children should stay at least 10 feet in front of the bus.
â¢ If a child drops something under the bus, they should never try to reach under it.
If you donât have children going to school but see others as theyâre on their way
â¢ If theyâre able, neighbors of children walking to school should keep an eye out to make sure the children are making it to school without incident.
â¢ Drivers need to remember there may be children walking in the area and should adjust their speed accordingly.
â¢ Drivers also need to stop when they see buses loading and unloading students.