Visibly angered and frustrated parents of nonpublic and charter school students took over the majority of Quakertown's school board meeting on June 26. Complaints centered around a reported lack of communication and concern for students affected by a new transportation plan to be implemented in the 2014-15 school year.
The plan will target nonpublic and charter school students who use the district's bus system. Instead of being bused directly to their respective schools, they will now be required to first transfer to a different bus at a centralized hub location in the district.
In April, Superintendent William Harner's plan was approved by the school board as a way to save the district at most $340,000 by eliminating five mini buses and one van from the district's fleet. The decision was met with some disagreement as start and end times would be changed for middle and high school students by approximately 15 minutes. High school students would enter school earlier and leave school before middle school students with this plan.
At that time, Harner was aware of subsequent backlash from parents and, in an attempt to make the community aware, a connect-ed message was sent on April 15. A portion of the message read, "State law requires districts to transport these students if their school is within 10 miles of the QCSD boundary," and "With an earlier high school start time, we can transport most of the charter and nonpublic school students on our normal public school student runs, transfer them onto other buses, and then send them directly to their schools."
Currently there are three major private schools in the district that use the busing system with 173 students from St. Isodore's, 30 students from United Friends, and 84 students from Quakertown Christian School.
Numerous parents spoke during Thursday's meeting urging the school board to postpone the new busing program after further discussion can be done and consideration of student safety addressed with the transfer to other buses.
Milford resident and parent, Patricia Grandinetti said, "I understand the need to save money but I urge you to postpone or delay implementation of this plan. You have theory behind this but this program is not ready. There is a greater concern among parents about the safety of young children. How will the kindergartners change buses on the way to and from school each day?"
Grandinetti also spoke of the loss of classroom learning and homework time for nonpublic school students affected by the changes. She remarked of the many parents who are now looking into home schooling for their children in order to avoid the new busing program which, she points out, will in turn cost the district more money.
James Shearing, Richland resident spoke, "We pay taxes and school busing is offered. I'm terrified for my kindergartner who will have to transfer buses two times a day! Who will be supervising these transfers? What about the $197,000 listed on the budget used to buy new weight equipment, is that more important than our children's safety?!"
Parent after parent spoke to the school board, pleading for the plan to be discussed further and implemented in the 2015-16 school year not 2014-15.
Harner in turn promised safety of the students is of the utmost importance to the district and he will have a detailed plan available by the third week in July for parents and school officials to look over.
Several school board members were absent from Thursday's meeting; however, member Anna Cattie revealed her concerns lie with the younger students being transferred to other buses. School board members Bob Smith and Fern Strunk agreed, stating safety as a main concern but feel it is a workable plan.
Board member Stephen Ripper offered to meet with parent representatives of the private schools to discuss their concerns on Monday, June 30 with the next scheduled school board meeting Thurs., August 14.