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School bus policy returns to BOE agenda

December 08, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - With two newly elected members on the Washington County Board of Education, Wayne D. Ridenour said it is a good time to revisit the controversial and much-disputed transportation changes the school board adopted in May.

The board voted less than one month ago to relax the policy, but Ridenour, a school board member, said he will ask for further changes during today's public business meeting.

However, Board Vice President Donna Brightman said she plans to ask that the board strike the topic from the meeting agenda, saying the proper procedures to draft the agenda were not followed.

The previous changes limited students to one morning and one afternoon bus stop. After months of discussion and criticism from parents who said the policy affected their custody and childcare arrangements, the policy was changed in November to allow two morning bus stops and one afternoon bus stop.

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Ridenour said that since two new school board members - W. Edward Forrest and Justin M. Hartings - have been sworn in since that vote, their first meeting tonight would be a good time to revisit the issue.

Ridenour said he will be asking tonight that the board consider allowing two morning and two afternoon bus stops.

That has been his position for months, and the one favored by the majority of parents who have spoken out against the policy.

"I'm hearing from the people who have consistently said it's a problem, and I just believe it's worth continuing to look at," Ridenour said. "We have a new board, and I'd really like to hear from the new members."

Previous board members Roxanne R. Ober and Bernadette M. Wagner were supportive of the original policy until Wagner supported the decision to allow two morning bus stops.

Board member Ruth Anne Callaham said new board members should be able to weigh in on the decision, but she said it was unlikely she would change the position she held for months that students should be allowed two morning and two afternoon bus stops.

Callaham said she was unsure what the outcome of today's discussion would be, but said she is open to hearing all views on the subject.

Brightman said the typical process to approve an item for the business meeting agenda involves consensus from a committee.

Ridenour said he asked Shulamit Finkelstein, executive assistant for Strategic Planning, Board and Community Relations for Washington County Public Schools, to add the item to the agenda.

"I am concerned that the process was not followed and plan to bring this issue forward in the public session," she said.

Brightman said she was concerned that the transportation policy was being used to further an "individual's political agenda."

"Public policy having to do with the safety of our children ... all of our children countywide has been used for individual political agendas," she said.

Brightman said she feels the issue was settled Nov. 18, when the board voted to allow for two morning bus stops, and said it did not need to be discussed today. She said the policy allows for review at the end of the school year.

Forrest said he was not surprised that the transportation policy would be discussed during his first business meeting. He said that allowing two morning bus stops was not a complete solution, and he said he was eager to discuss the issue today.

"I just think there were just some mistakes made in the development of the policy as far as getting input from parents," Forrest said.

He said he hopes that the issue will be put to rest after today's decision.

Hartings, who spoke out against the transportation policy during his campaign, said he preferred not to comment on a policy amendment that hasn't been made yet, and that he hasn't seen.

"It's difficult to say anything about potential changes that we haven't seen," he said Monday.

Ridenour said he is hopeful that there are enough votes on the new board to make the changes he will request today.

"If it doesn't pass this time, we're going to have to just let it go for the time being," Ridenour said.

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