A decision to discontinue the activity bus for North Woods School students took an unconventional detour, bypassing the school board and public before taking effect. That’s reason enough for the bus to be restored, but there are additional concerns that should prompt action by the school board.
Board members and the public weren’t the only people left out of the decision-making process. The school’s Business Manager Kim Johnson also had not been informed about the change. Although both North Woods Principal John Metsa and Superintendent Teresa Strong acknowledged the decision was driven by budget concerns, Strong also claimed low participation was a factor. But how do you gauge student participation for a bus that wasn’t even offered at the start of the school year? Apparently there were more than enough students to justify the bus last year.
We also find it puzzling that the activity bus was only eliminated at North Woods, but will continue at South Ridge through the fall and will still be offered indefinitely at Northeast Range. That’s inconsistent and raises concerns about fairness.
When the district was seeking voters’ support on its reorganization plan, it promoted the activity buses as a way to ensure participation by students in communities that would be more distant from their new schools. But that promise has now been broken at North Woods without opportunity for discussion. In fact, many parents and staff at schools were not even informed of the change before it happened. In the end, discontinuing the activity bus will likely limit the ability of some students to participate, and that shouldn’t happen, especially when voters were told the restructuring plan would expand student opportunities.
We realize that the district has found itself in a financial crunch and circumstances may require the district to adjust its plans. But the district’s financial predicament is due largely to the failure to reap savings from staff reductions and more energy-efficient operations that were promised as a result of the district’s restructuring. The board has kept administrative positions, such as deans, that were supposed to have been eliminated through the restructuring. The district already has among the very highest administrative costs of any school district in the state. Yet the board has failed to insist on administrative efficiencies even as those very administrators work behind the scenes, without board approval, to eliminate activity buses.
Board members have repeatedly said they want to keep budget cuts away from students as much as possible. Cutting an activity bus for students, while not on par with eliminating educational programs, hardly seems like shielding kids from budget cuts.
In addition to looking elsewhere to make cuts, other options might be explored. For instance, the district could look at adding a modest fee for students taking the activity bus. It wouldn’t cover the full cost of transporting students, but it would be cheaper for parents than driving back and forth between the school and their communities.
In either case, this decision was the school board’s to make— not the superintendent’s or the principal’s. The public deserves a chance to weigh in on the issue and such a radical departure from policy should require board action first. Administrators didn’t just take a short cut by making this decision on their own, they short-circuited a process that should have included public discussion.
The school board should stand up for its process and its policies. If not, the board just isn’t doing its job.