For the second straight month, things got heated when the Oberlin board of education considered eliminating busing for students who live in the district but attend schools elsewhere.
By a 4-0 vote, the board voted to approve a resolution declaring the impracticality of transporting students to Lake Ridge Academy for the 2017-2018 school year. Board vice president Albert Barroni abstained from voting.
“Over the years, the district has had to make tough decisions on what we’re going to offer and what we’re not going to offer,” board president Anne Schaum said. “The board relies on (superintendent David) Hall and his professional expertise to evaluate the whole district and to come up with solutions for us. A lot of times, we’re going to be asked to make those tough decisions. I think tonight is one of those times.”
Early in the meeting, members of the public had the opportunity to voice their opinions on the matter before the board voted. Many viewed it as a much larger issue than just busing to and from Lake Ridge.
“To me this is a matter of principles; it’s a matter of priorities. I think that it’s larger than one child, larger than 19 children, larger than Oberlin, and larger than Ohio; this is a national issue,” said Janet Garret, who taught in the Oberlin Schools for 24 year before retiring. “We should be putting all of our resources into public schools, to make them better for all of our children. If people are having problems with their public school, they should go to the teachers, the administrators, and do whatever is needed to make those schools better for everyone.”
Some parents with students who attend other schools said they do so because of problems in the district — problems they feel the school board is reluctant to talk about.
“While we were going back and forth trying to decide whether or not to have our child attend another school, not one board member (from Oberlin) approached me. From what I understand, it’s not very commonplace for anyone on the board to talk to any of the parents who have left the district,” said Jessa New. “We’re an extremely small district. We can’t get away from each other. The fact that the board doesn’t really reach out to its community members, but gets really angry when we make other decisions, that’s difficult. It’s your job. You’re supposed to be making this district better.”
One school board member, Rosa Gadsden, asked for parents to expound on their decisions to leave.
“I’m interested in those parents who have decided to take their children elsewhere. I would like to know, from each of you, why? What problems did you come upon that were or were not solved to your satisfaction?” Gadsden said. “I want to know what roadblocks you had, what issues came up. I want to know. Whether you have special needs and we weren’t meeting it, I want to know.
“There is a reason why people are taking their children out of Oberlin Schools and taking them somewhere else. I want to know what that problem is.”
The school district has stated it can save $33,000 a year by eliminating busing to Lake Ridge. While state law mandates that public schools must provide busing to other institutions within a 30-mile radius, it does allow them to give money to the families rather than provide transportation.
Some parents doubt the validity of the $33,000 estimate. Others want to know what exactly the district plans to do with the savings.
“My understanding is that the vote tonight is to state that the busing to schools outside the Oberlin school district places an undue financial burden on the district. If less than one percent of the operating budget so strains the financial needs of this school system, can you please explain exactly where those funds will be reallocated?” Jennifer Zinn-Lagasse said. “I think we all need to understand how this money will be spent, so as to understand why it is worth putting the safety of children at risk.”
The state will now have to approve the district’s declaration that providing transportation to and from Lake Ridge is impractical. Some parents don’t see that happening.
“Obviously the superintendent believes you can make a case it’s impractical. We actually believe you can’t make that case,” John Scofield said. “That’s yet to be decided, whether or not the state will agree that it’s impractical. That process is going to be a long process that may take six to nine months. During that time, busing will continue. It’s going to cost the district money for lawyers and representatives. After six or nine months, you may win or you may lose.
“Here’s what we know: It’s going to be contentious.”
Scofield compared it to two neighbors fighting over a disputed property line.
“One finally sues the other,” he said. “A judge will decide who’s right, but one thing you know is they’re going to hate each other for the rest of their lives. Be sure the division this is going to cause is worth it.”
Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.