“There are still trust issues in the district and bringing this up without clarity and at a meeting time where no one can attend fuels the angst.”
These words from June Lake resident Ann Tozier at Wednesday’s Eastern Sierra Unified School District Board meeting set the tone for the public hearing held at 1 p.m in Bridgeport regarding transportation within the district.
Tozier and the few other members of the public who were present had to request time off work to attend. The core issue of the transportation discussed was once again the bus routes from Bridgeport to Coleville High School as well as from Bridgeport to Lee Vining High School. A Board workshop and meeting held in April brought the topic, which some have deemed an unnecessary discussion, to the surface.
Some Board members, as well as some members of the public would like to see one of the two routes cut. Those in favor of the cuts claim that dwindling student numbers were eventually make it unreasonable to send buses from Bridgeport in two directions (see “Wheels on the Bus,” April 20 Sheet).
Those, like Tozier, who are against the idea of a bus route cut wondered aloud on Wednesday what the issue was, and why the topic had been brought up in the first place when the schools and the students are currently balanced and happy.
“There are a lot of issues with this,” stated Board member Jimmy Little. “We need to look toward the future.”
Little said that there are dwindling numbers in Bridgeport and he felt it would be unreasonable to have a bus route that in a few years would be shuttling 2-3 students.
Fellow Board member Melinda Melendrez, however, felt that Little was being too pessimistic and that the District should offer a mode of transportation no matter what. Both Melendrez and Board member Gabe Segura felt that transportation should be dealt with on a year-by-year basis, assessing student numbers and modes of transit each year.
“We should address this when the issue presents itself,” Segura said.
Yet Little felt that the issue should be resolved now to save future student classes from wondering about the fate of transit each year. He was later accused of trying to “read the tea leaves” and getting ahead of the issue.
“Why do you think there has to be a year where we cut,” asked Melendrez.
Little became emotional when talking about the way his daughter had been used as a “pawn” in all of this, referring to rumors that he wanted to cut the bus route to Lee Vining in order to force his daughter to go to Coleville.
“I question the integrity of those challenging the [busing] issue if they’re using my daughter as a tool,” Little said. “That’s divisive. If I wasn’t comfortable with either school, we’d have a larger issue at the board level.”
Little felt that the two bus routes “divided kids up and doubled exposure to accidents.”
Melendrez, however, returned to the fact that there is a bus going in both directions from Bridgeport regardless of whether or not it is transporting high school students. Currently the bus driver who drives the south route lives in Bridgeport and simply drives the bus from Bridgeport down to Lee Vining picking up students along the way. This route was created three years ago with the closure of the Eastern Sierra Academy in Bridgeport. The District promised to run the route to Lee Vining for Bridgeport students for at least three years.
If the south route were cut, the District would go back to running things the way it did previously. The bus would be housed in Lee Vining, and the driver would have to commute to work.
With still so much division on the item, Board Chair John Peters pushed the idea of hiring a consultant to do a transportation study for the District. The scope of the study has not been nailed down. Currently the only thing on the table is whether to have the study done or not.
“We need to gain all of the knowledge we can to make the right choices,” Peters said. “Neither the public or the Board is as informed as it could be without bringing in experts from time to time. Facts are the best way to drive this.”
Segura, however, was not in favor of the study if it was simply going to address the two bus routes in question.
“There is no merit to do a study if it’s just busing from Bridgeport,” Segura said. “The Board is competent to handle that.”
Melendrez was also against a consultant.
“Bringing someone in from the outside is not a good idea,” she said. “They didn’t have an answer before, why would they be able to do anything more for us now?” Melendrez was referring to a portion of the discussion at the April 17 Board meeting when ESUSD Superintendent Don Clark explained that the consultant that the District is looking at using, Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), had already done an overall study for Inyo and Mono counties. “But the transit system for Eastern Sierra Unified was deemed a ‘unique animal’ and they didn’t know what to do for us,” Clark had said last month.
Lee Vining parent Stacey Simon had another take on the idea of a consultant and a study.
“I don’t want an answer to the question,” she said. “I’m not willing to cut the route to Lee Vining or to Coleville, so I don’t want a study for a question I’ll never answer.”
Simon also pointed out that studies have a shelf life, so if the study was conducted now before the District really needed it, it could very well be stale by the time it’s used.
Clark then presented a chart he had compiled that showed projected student numbers for Bridgeport Elementary, Lee Vining Elementary, Antelope Elementary, Lee Vining High School and Coleville High School based on the current 2012/13-student body.
According to Clark’s numbers, which he admitted could fluctuate, by the 2016/17 school year there will be 31 students at Lee Vining High School and 61 at Coleville High School, a far cry from the more balanced 58 at LVHS and 55 at Coleville this school year. These numbers are based on where students in grades 5-8 at the elementary schools told their teachers they planned to go to high school at this time.
“The kids could change their minds, but these numbers are based on what they’re saying they want to do now,” Clark told The Sheet on Thursday.
The Board took no action on the topic at Wednesday’s meeting.