Bus crunch sends Gary students to the sidewalks as they walk to school
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3154 August 25, 2012 8:22PM
A crossing guard stops traffic as students head home after class at Webster Elementary school in Gary Tuesday Aug. 22, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
The school district is holding three forums to receive input from parents about their concerns and suggestions.
Aug. 29 — 6 p.m. Marquette Elementary
Sept. 5 — 6 p.m. Lew Wallace library
Sept. 19 — 6 p.m. Jefferson Elementary cafeteria
Updated: September 27, 2012 11:00AM
GARY — Siblings Keyonah and Michael Davis Jr. love walking home from Webster Elementary School.
Their mother, Kissne Davis, likes the health benefits they receive, but she tags along their route just to make sure they’re safe.
“I think it’s a good thing. Kids should have to walk. I did. It’s good exercise,” she said.
Davis, who said she’s a stay-at-home mom, accompanies Keyonah, 11, and Michael Jr., 9, because she worries about them getting attacked by stray dogs.
“We always ask to walk, but it’s the dogs,” Keyonah said. “We like to walk in the winter. It’s the best time.”
Not all parents are as happy with the Gary Community School Corp.’s new “walk zone” policy, a School Board directive that calls for elementary children who live 1 mile from their school to walk. At the middle and high school level, students must walk if they live 2 miles or less from the school. Students who don’t live in a walk zone and special-needs students are provided bus transportation.
Faced with deep budget cuts, the school district pared down its transportation budget to about $5 million, said spokeswoman Sarita Stevens. In May, the district’s contracted provider, Illinois Central School Bus, notified the state’s Department of Workforce Development that a number of school bus routes had been eliminated and it would be laying off about 86 drivers.
In the past six years, the district has cut $40 million from its budget.
“Walking to school is not a negative,” School Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said. “In fact, many parents can share stories with their children on how they walked to school. Gary is a great community and for a school district to have a walk zone is fairly common.”
Pruitt has scheduled a series of parent forums to get input. The district has hired a new director of transportation and has installed new software related to its students.
“In the long run this will be a great benefit to our school district. However, in the beginning problems will have to be worked out and addressed until everything is up and running properly.”
The software allows parents to obtain updated information regarding transportation online. The link is available by clicking on bus transportation on the school’s website, www.garycsc.k12.in.us.
Not all parents like the new policy.
Timetra Smith, who has three children at Webster, said she worries about sex predators who live in the Glen Park neighborhood.
“I looked at the list from 37th and Grant to Broadway and there’s over 100 predators,” she said. “I don’t feel safe with my baby walking.”
Smith was at Webster picking up her children to drive them home.
“This morning, I see these little itty bitty kids walking at 6:45 a.m. In the winter, it will be dark, giving anyone the opportunity to snatch them up.”
Earlier on Monday, a sudden rainstorm sent kids and parents at the Glen Park Academy scurrying for cover.
“It sucks,” said parent Shameka Tillman who arrived to drive her children, Layshante, 9, and Jasmine, 10, home. “They normally bus them. Why should they have to walk?” Tillman said she lives about 12 blocks from the school.
Tillman said she sees many more cars driven by parents clogging the school lot picking kids up. “They need to fix it,” she said.