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DAVIS’ BUS DECISION FUELS PARENTAL CONCERN

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Cindy and David Cook hadn't planned to drive their 5-year-old daughter Kristin to school Monday, but they did so.

And so did hundreds of other Davis County parents now that school bus service for 3,800 students has been cut.The Davis County Board of Education decided to quit busing students who don't meet state rules for financial reimbursement for their bus rides. The money to transport ineligible students was coming primarily from textbook funds - and it would have cost about $600,000 this year.

No other district in Utah has bused as many nonqualifying students as has the Davis District, according to state records. To get state money for busing, the district must bus elementary students who live at least 1.5 miles from school and secondary students who live 2 miles or farther away. The expense of busing those who live closer is borne by the district.

A small number of Davis year-round-school students were affected by the decision during the summer, but the first day of the regular school year Monday was when the policy change really hit home for many families.

A number of parents throughout the district are unhappy with the way the decision was made and the relatively short time they had to make other arrangements.

Most important, say parents, is the question of the children's safety.

"The inconvenience is the smallest part of it," said Ruth Tyler. "It's too dangerous for kids to walk."

Her three children would need to walk east from the Barnes estates subdivision to Kaysville Elementary and Kaysville Junior High, a route that would take them over Union Pacific Railroad tracks, past I-15 on- and off-ramps and under the I-15 viaduct.

Tyler and her neighbors are carpooling their children, but there will be times when the adults can't give rides and the children will have to go on foot.

"No child should ever walk that route," Tyler said.

The school board plans to appoint a committee to review hazardous routes in the coming year, but school officials already have warned that there isn't enough money to cover all situations.

Cindy Cook said she is perplexed because children in her neighborhood last year went to Bountiful Elementary School, but the district transferred children to Valley View this year.

"The parents thought, `OK, we'll go to Valley View if they'll bus the children. We'll switch schools if you give us a bus like we've always had,' " she said.

However, Cook said she recently learned her home is considered too close to school to get bus service.

"We think it's funny that last year we met the requirements when we switched to Valley View and now all of a sudden we don't meet the requirements," she said. "All the neighbors have called the district. They tell us our odometers are wrong in our car. It's crazy."

Lamont Nelson, district transportation director, said busing went smoothly Monday morning.

"I think it went very well considering the magnitude of the changes we've brought about. We're bound to have little glitches, but everything looks good at this point," he said.

Once hazardous-route committees are formed, they will begin looking at different routes during October, November and December, Nelson said. Their findings will be forwarded to a district committee that will evaluate each route and rank them all.

"Our concern is for the safety of students," Nelson said. "We'd also like to remind adult drivers that we have a few thousand more students out there walking now, so they should be more careful." Nelson added that law enforcement agencies have done "an exceptional job" in helping with the transition.

Nelson said he understands that this was a significant change for parents.

"We realize we made a major change in transportation service," Nelson said. "Everybody stepped up and met the challenge head on and is doing very well."

Richard Kendell, superintendent of schools, said he also sympathizes with parents but adds the district must live within its means.

"Pulling back hurts. It's very difficult. I think everybody in our system from bus drivers to board mem-bers have felt the pain of having to pull back to a bus program that's consistent with our budget and our resources," he said.

"One of the reasons it took us this long to get too this point is that it is so painful. In the past, we were living beyond our means, but there was such a hue and cry everybody said, `Let's try and live with it.' After doing that for years, you finally get to the point where you realize you just can't continue. It had to be done if we were to be financially responsible."