APA Ames School Board Forum: Answers to Question 2

On September 5, 2017, the Ames Progressive Alliance held an Ames School Board Forum at the Ames Public Library.  Each candidate was given three questions to answer via email.  Below are the answers from the candidate’s to question 2.  The answers to the questions are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Question 2:  Traffic congestion at our elementary, middle and high schools is an ever-increasing issue, especially since Ames has closed and consolidated several of the neighborhood elementary schools.  The bussing policy in Ames stipulates that the school district only provides bussing to those elementary and middle school students who live more than 2 miles from school, leaving many without access to free bussing but too far to walk.  It’s acknowledged that this policy reflects the State of Iowa Code, but that is the minimum level of service that the district needs to follow.  Would you, if elected, initiate a study to determine the cost and effect in terms of ridership, benefit to families, and impact on traffic of expanding bussing service to those within a smaller radius?

Monic Behnken: From my reading, there are actually two questions here.  I will answer each in turn.  About the content of the question: Yes, I support any effort to ensure our children get to school safely and reliably.  Bus service is an integral component of that goal.  The more that we can do to serve our children and families, the better.  About the process of the question:  I have been campaigning for 9 months.  During this time I have met with people from all over the city in a variety of professional and personal capacities.  I have heard many, many concerns.  However, I have not heard anyone in that time mention this issue.  I have heard complaints about the bus service generally, but not about access to the service for those of us within the two mile radius.  As I would understand my role as a school board director, one of my jobs would be to be responsive to community concerns, not pursue my own pet projects or agendas.  Without a clear sense that this is a community issue, I would have no data or evidence at this time to support initiating such a study.  Perhaps there are other issues on people’s minds that have prevented this issue from being brought up.  As someone who would make decisions based on the data, I would love to hear from the community if they feel such a study, and the related investment of resources, is appropriate to address this issue at this time.

Jamet Colton: I believe this is a great suggestion for a discussion the Board should have.  Transportation costs in our district are budgeted at $2.1 million for 2018, and this expense has steadily grown over time.  Transportation costs also come from the General Fund, 80% of which is dedicated to teacher and staff salaries and benefits and rest tied up in consumables and fixed operating costs.  Anything we can do to reduce constraints this fund will free up additional resources for instruction.

The Ames Bicycle Coalition has already suggested to me a parent survey about support for biking/walking and what barriers exist.  This should be incorporated into any transportation study as promoting safe biking and walking paths will immediately help solve problems.

I know transportation has become an increasing concern with the rise in enrollment.  We’re now looking at three elementary schools – Mitchell, Meeker, and Fellows nearly at capacity.  If voters approve construction of a new High School, this will also add to the issue with large equipment, work crews, the possible loss of parking, and/or lane closures in this area.

The 3-year, $1.47 million annual contract for Durham bussing is up in March of 2018, so it would be beneficial to have a study underway and completed before that time.

In the meantime we know Cyride offers discounted rides for students.  I also understand YSS has expressed concerns with getting kids to school.  Perhaps the district could alleviate costs and concerns inside of the two mile radius with a partnership with Cyride to bring down costs more.  It would be beneficial to attempt to utilize existing resources for those in need.

School Board members and administrators may be very capable, but they are not transportation specialists, nor do they want to be.  I would support seeking out expertise to and see how we can mitigate and resolve current and future transportation issues.

Gina Perez: Yes, I would like to explore the cost and ridership differences for expanding the bus route.  My family falls within this category.  We live less than two miles from Meeker, but we are too far for my second grader to walk safely to school.  Last week a car on 13th street almost hit a crossing guard.  This tells me that we have other considerations of safety to go along with the distance.  Also, I could be wrong, but I do not believe that there are any families that go to Meeker and live within the boundaries and still more than two miles from the school.

I would love to look at a cost analysis of how much busing costs now, versus how much it would cost for all kids.  Along with that cost analysis, it would be a good idea to see the cost of other distances, for example, one mile from the school.  Depending on the cost difference and available funding, there might be changes that can happen.

Tim Rasmussen: I lived for many years 1.92 miles from Ames Middle School.  Since we weren’t 2 miles away, I had to pay for discretionary bussing of my kids to my place of employment every day.  It was a luxury I gladly paid for, as it gave me the opportunity to check in with my boys, get them started on homework and a snack, then get them to night time activities.  Many families don’t have that option to add that to the family budget and we do have mechanisms in place to assist when needed.

Certainly, staff has and will assess the budget implications of opening up bussing have asked for those numbers in the past, as I am confident future Boards will ask for those numbers in the future.