Sweetwater Union High School District had unhappy parents lined up out the transportation-services door on August 6. The district is facing a $27 million budget shortfall. As a result, last March the board voted to cut 13 school-bus drivers and increase the distance that students walk to school. The cut saved $800,000 — but created a lot of anger.
Kelly Luna waited in the district board room for hours to get her chance to possibly buy bus passes for her children. Passes are available on a first come, first served basis.
Luna believes that this is a public-safety issue and that “the board will begin to pay attention when someone gets seriously injured.” Luna said her husband has been deployed to Kuwait and that she works full time and it is impossible for her to provide transportation both ways to school for her children.
The district increased walking distance by a half-mile. High-school students are now required to walk seven miles round-trip, while middle-school students walk a total of six miles to and from school.
Many parents complained that the students are carrying heavy backpacks and some are carrying musical instruments; safety, however, was the number-one concern. NBC reported on July 31 that an Otay Ranch High School student was robbed at knife-point on his way home from school.
Norene Andersen, parent of an Eastlake High School student, said, “The board is out of touch with reality.” She said the walking route suggested for her child — the one used to calculate the distance — is unsafe because of traffic.
Andersen also said she is upset with communication from the district on this issue.
“They tout having sent out robocalls and emails, but many of us in this room did not receive them.”
Another parent from Olympic View High School said she happened to be driving her daughter to school on the first day of class and saw 20 kids lined up waiting for the bus — “obviously they hadn’t got the calls.”
Speaking for the district, Manuel Rubio said, “We did make 25,000 robocalls explaining to parents about the half-mile increase. We also had a web page survey on the district website and a blog where parents could comment.”
Rubio pointed out that the state no longer mandates student transportation except for special-education students or students who attend schools that are on the needs- improvement list and therefore are eligible for intra-district transfers.
Prior to the vote, the union representing the bus drivers made a presentation to the board regarding the potential route cuts. Using a white board, the representative presented the number of known predators who live in the areas where the bus routes were going to be suspended and discussed the lack of sidewalks in a San Ysidro district.
Ultimately, the board voted 3-2. Boardmembers John McCann, Jim Cartmill, and Arlie Ricasa voted for the cuts; boardmembers Pearl Quiñones and Bertha Lopez were opposed.