At least 90 children at Buchanan Elementary should have shorter bus rides to school this fall than they thought.
East Baton Rouge Parish school officials explained the proposed bus route change at a public meeting Monday night to about 30 people, most of them parents of children at Buchanan Elementary, gathered in the auditorium at McKinley Middle School Auditorium.
The change should allow the children to reduce bus rides to 15 to 29 minutes as compared with between 60 and 80 minutes if they went through the school system’s transfer point at North Sherwood Forest Road.
The new school year starts Aug. 10.
In April, the School Board agreed to end direct busing for children in gifted classes if the buses had fewer than 30 children, one of more than $33 million worth of cuts. It was a close, controversial vote that took an estimated 16 buses off the road and is expected to save $825,000 in 2011-12.
Supporters of the gifted program tried unsuccessfully to reverse the move in June when the School Board approved its general operating budget.
At the time, though, Superintendent John Dilworth promised he would work with gifted students’ parents to find alternatives, namely using other public schools as “pickup points.”
“We’ve looked to find a way to cut down on the amount of time these young kids are on a bus,” Dilworth said.
Dilworth said he needs to finalize some moves by the end of this week.
“We think this is an alternative to what we’ve had in the past,” he said. “It’s not a perfect alternative.”
Buchanan Elementary, 1222 E. Buchanan St., had the most children affected by the move away from direct busing. Many of them live several miles from Buchanan, which is near LSU.
“This is a pilot program,” transportation head Bill Talmadge said.
If the program works well, Talmadge said the school system will expand it to other schools with gifted programs.
The proposal is that rather than have children board a bus and then change buses at the central transfer point, their parents would drive them to the public schools nearest to their house.
“Parents are going to be responsible for getting their children to the pickup points,” Talmadge said.
The proposal calls for two buses to pick up children at four schools and take them to Buchanan:
• Bus 1904 would go to Mayfair Middle, 9880 Hyacinth Ave., leave at 7:41 a.m., then go to Wildwood Elementary, 444 Halfway Tree Road, and leave there at 7:51 a.m. Twenty-eight kids live closest to Mayfair and 26 live closest to Wildwood.
• Bus 1813 would go to Magnolia Woods, 760 Maxine Drive, leave at 7:48 a.m., and Highland Elementary, 280 Sunset Blvd., Magnolia Woods, 760 Maxine Drive, at 7:55 a.m. Nine children live closest to Magnolia Woods and 34 live closest to Highland.
Both buses would arrive at Buchanan at 8:10, early enough to eat breakfast in advance of the start of school at 8:25 a.m., Talmadge said.
Talmadge said transportation will work the same in reverse with buses leaving Buchanan at 3:30 p.m. dropping kids off at those same four schools, though it will take slightly longer because of afternoon traffic.
Talmadge said buses will have 54 and 43 kids respectively and can hold as many as 66 children each.
“This would be much more efficient that having nine, 10, 15 kids per bus (as we had before),” Talmadge said.
Dilworth urged the parents Monday to brainstorm ways to carpool to make it easier for them to get to these four schools.
An earlier idea was to use BREC parks as “pickup points,” but that was set aside because the locations lacked security, Dilworth said.
In the case of children picked up and dropped off at Mayfair Middle, these children, all in grades kindergarten to five, won’t mix with middle school students at Mayfair, Talmadge said.
Ashley Thibodeaux, mother of a Buchanan student, said she was worried Mayfair’s small parking lot would make it hard to get kids and in and out.
“I thought we were here to discuss multiple situations, not just, ‘This is it, take it or leave it,’ ” Thibodeaux said.
Another parent, Raj Iyer, who lives near Woodlawn Elementary School, asked if the school system could send kids to that school instead.
“We don’t have enough students to make that stop at Woodlawn,” Talmadge replied.