Changes coming to Girdwood School bussing
By Selita Rios
Special to the Glacier City Gazette
Riding the school bus is as much part of many children’s school experience as the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the excitement of yearly school supply shopping. The sight of children waiting at their bus stops, backpacks full and lunches packed is a sure sign of fall.
For many Girdwood School students, that experience is set to change.
The Anchorage School District has a Transportation Fund that is facing a $2 million budget gap due to rapidly rising costs and flat revenue. (This shortcoming is different from the General Fund, which is dealing with an $11 million shortfall.) Rather than charge for bus service, ASD decided to look into areas where services could be reduced or changed in order to make up this deficit.
Girdwood School students (with the exception of those living on Upper Crow Creek or in Portage) are currently served by two buses, #622, which serves students from Indian to lower Crow Creek Road, and #623, which transports students living in the neighborhoods past the Glacier Creek Bridge. Starting next school year, these two routes will be served by only one bus. The bus will pick up its first group of students beginning at 7:24 a.m. and drop them off at school at 8:06 a.m. Then the bus will continue along its route, with the second group arriving at school at 8:25 a.m.
On Tuesday evening, Girdwood parents, teachers and students met with Anchorage School District officials in the Main Commons of the Girdwood School to discuss the impending changes and the implications for students, families and the academic experience. Attendees at the meeting raised numerous concerns about the new bus service, from safety to timing to the lack of community involvement.
Joslyn Stinson offered concerns, both as a parent and as a teacher at the school. “I find it very hard to believe that this schedule will work,” she said. “When you look at the times in between stops, many of them are only a minute apart, it seems like there is a strong likelihood that the bus will run behind, and with only a 5-minute window from the time students arrive until the late bell rings, I feel that this has a huge potential to impact the academic day.”
Despite the fact that the route has yet to be tested, Chuck Moore, the District’s new Director of Transportation reiterated their confidence that “this will work.”
One of the biggest issues with consolidating the bus stops was safety.
“My biggest concern with the changes to the bus stops is that in the winter, you now will have kids walking further in the dark, on the road, with no streetlights and no sidewalks. It seems like a potentially very dangerous situation,” offered Betsy Connell, a sentiment echoed strongly by parent Mandy Hawes.
Hawes said that her children were almost hit recently on their way home from the bus stop by a driver who took a corner too fast and slid on the gravel road. “It feels like Girdwood is always having services retracted at the expense of safety just because we have a low population relative to the district,” she added.
Another unknown is how students will be supervised before and after school hours, what activities they will be engaged in and who will perform the supervision. While it appeared likely that some additional money may be available from the general fund to pay teachers to add this time to their schedules, concerns about further strain to already stressed teachers’ schedules were raised.
On hand to address a peripheral issue was Jim Anderson, ASD’s new head of Student Nutrition. “We would love to be able to serve breakfast here,” he enthusiastically offered. “It might be something to help offset the earlier arrival time if parents knew their kids could have a delicious and nutritious breakfast here at school before classes begin.”
As the meeting progressed, community members began to offer a variety of options to District representatives, from utilizing Glacier Valley Transit services to lobbying the Municipality for tax dollars that come from Girdwood but are spent on Anchorage services that do not benefit Girdwood residents.
Unfortunately, when asked if the one bus route solution was a “done deal,” Mike Graham, Chief Academic Officer for ASD answered, “Yes, it will be happening. We can reassess it if there are safety problems, but this will happen in the fall.”
Bird Creek resident Whitney Whitman offered the last comment of the evening, encapsulating a sentiment characteristic of the community. “Our kids are heavily impacted by this. I would like to say that I really appreciate the work that you have put into this, and your coming down here. And I know that you are dealing with some really tough issues to which there are no easy answers, but I think you missed out on your greatest resource, which is the community here. Why weren’t we asked? We are good, involved, creative problem solvers, and we are taken off guard when solutions are forced upon us.”
“That is much appreciated. I hear you, and we will do better,” came the response from Graham.