December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Columbia Schools to end high school busing amid low ridership

Fewer students at Columbia High School are using buses. Low ridership has forced the school board to eliminate busing services for high school students, starting April 22. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Fewer students at Columbia High School are using buses. Low ridership has forced the school board to eliminate busing services for high school students, starting April 22. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — Citing low ridership and an attempt to save the district money, Columbia Schools has decided to end high school busing effective April 22.

District officials said the decision was made based on the number of students actually riding the bus, the daily cost of the service and what the district could save through the end of the year if bus service was eliminated.

The board had only recently restored high school transportation after the passage of the November levy.

However, the number of students actually riding the bus since then has dropped from an initial count of 70 to 90 students down to 33 to 38 students.

It was just not cost effective to run the buses, Superintendent Graig Bansek said.

“It is unfortunate that few students took advantage of this opportunity, and we know that this is a serious inconvenience to those students and their parents who did,” Bansek said in a letter to parents. “However, the Board of Education is committed to being fiscally responsible with the tax dollars that are approved by the Columbia community.”

High school busing costs Columbia roughly $359.27 per day. Cutting high school busing on April 22 through the remainder of this school year will save the district a minimum of $11,496.64, Bansek said.

“This was something the board has been looking at for months and the board ultimately decided to cut bus service after spring break because the money can be used in other ways in the district for more kids.”

High school busing has been on-again and off-again this school year in Columbia and its all been tied to money. In the beginning of the year, busing was cut to save money. The district was fighting to get a levy passed and, when that happened, busing was brought back Jan. 15, but has never picked up enough steam to make it worth the district’s money.

On the district’s website, there is a tally of weekly bus riders showing the diminishing number of riders. One route started out with 12 riders during the week of Feb. 16, but by March 9 the number of students on the bus dropped to just nine. The decision to pull high school busing should not come as a surprise to parents, Bansek said.

Still, school board president Brenda Buchanan said the decision was not one made easily. She is also the parent of a high school student and the decision affects her household.

“We have to make decisions that are best for the entire district and the money we can save is quite a bit of money for a school district of our size,” she said.

Columbia has about 1,000 students throughout the district.

Even though Columbia successfully passed a 5.5-mill operating levy, Buchanan said the district is not flush with cash and has a massive debt related to a $650,000 loan that was taken out to get the district through last school year.

“That loan must be paid in full next year so we have to watch every dollar we are spending,” she said. “The money for high school busing can go into the general fund and into debt services. The levy really didn’t give us a huge bank account. It just kept us afloat.”

Columbia will retain its busing for kindergarten through eighth grade students, as required by law, as well as busing for students who attend the Lorain County Joint Vocational School. Legally, the district does not have to bus high school students and most districts in Lorain County did away with it years ago.

Parents will have to make plans to transport their students to and from Columbia High School when students return from spring break on April 22.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.