Cutting bus routes should have involved community

Making the transition from summer to a new school year can be stressful for families, so school officials ought to do their best to refrain from making sudden operational changes just before classes begin.

Kiona-Benton City School officials did a disservice to many parents when they gave only a two-week notice that the district would cancel certain bus routes. This is a decision that should have been discussed much earlier, in the open and involving the community.

To spring such a change so close to the start of the school year seems thoughtless. When children traditionally have ridden a school bus and parents have relied on those established routes for several years, the news that school buses no longer will be available must have come as a shock.

It also leaves people wondering what exactly the district hopes to gain from the change.

It isn't known how much of a cost savings the district will see by canceling the routes. In a letter to parents, school officials cite compliance with state transportation standards as the reason behind the decision. However, the state does not restrict schools in what bus service it provides.

It does, however, only provide funding to transport elementary students who live farther than one mile from their school, unless the path is considered unsafe. For middle school and high school students, the limit is 1.5 miles from their schools.

According to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Ki-Be district spent about $476,000 on busing for the 2010-11 school year and the state covered $341,000 of that expense.

Cutting costs in the school district may be necessary, but the community still should have been involved in the discussion. Decisions that directly affect families scream out for justification.

The neighborhoods affected by the canceled routes are about a mile south of Kiona-Benton City Elementary School and 1.5 miles from the high school, and include Sanlynn Estates, Hillview Mobile Home Park and the 1400 block of Kendall Road.

For the elementary school students, it is likely to take 20 minutes to walk to school, and there are no sidewalks.

If a school district can prove that a walking path is unsafe, then it can be reimbursed. Ki-Be school officials apparently didn't believe the walking path would be considered unsafe by state officials. But even so, the savings the school district expects by cutting the routes should be released to the public.

It's quite possible the savings will be significant, but those figures should be revealed so the community and parents can see how their taxes are being spent.

Without community discussion, there are too many questions and parents are bound to be left feeling frustrated.

This issue should have involved the community. It may be the best decision, but it is harder to accept when parents were given little notice and no time to question it.