State board supports Lake Ridge bus cut

By Laurie Hamame -

Private school students will have to find a new ride to Lake Ridge Academy after a Jan. 9 decision by the Ohio Board of Education.

In a 9-6 vote, state officials said the Oberlin City Schools no longer have to provide transportation for students who choose to enroll at the North Ridgeville college preparatory school. There were two abstentions.

The ruling overturned the order of state hearing officer Philip King.

In November, he said Oberlin didn’t have a persuasive argument for ending the 15-mile run to Lake Ridge.

The state board’s stance was “clearly the decision that the district expected to receive,” said Anne Schaum, president of the Oberlin school board. The district spent $23,000 in legal fees, gambling that state board would vote in Oberlin’s favor.

“We clearly felt that busing was impractical and were shocked when the original finding came out,” she told the News-Tribune. “It went against everything that we heard from the Ohio School Board Association when we started pursuing this about what could be expected.”

”We’re still kind of holding our breaths because the parents still have the option to appeal the decision, so we’re not sure what they’re planning to do. But at this point, we feel happy that our decision was supported.”

Under state law, public school districts are usually required to provide busing for private school students within a 30-mile radius.

But Oberlin’s request to cut Lake Ridge busing was reasonable based on previous cases, state school board member Pat Burns said. The amount of money the Oberlin City Schools would save is significant, she said, and King was errant in his decision.

The Lake Ridge run costs $33,500 per year — about twice as much per rider as it costs to transport kids to Oberlin’s public schools, according to superintendent David Hall.

“They also made a point that it would be disruptive to their school start time when buses routes were consolidated,” Burns said. “And also that it was often hard to get additional bus drivers and we do know there is a shortage state-wide and this is an issue for a lot of districts.”

Hall said the number of drivers has trickled because of illnesses. Routes have been combined to accommodate the shortage, forcing buses to pick up Oberlin students earlier than normal so that Lake Ridge students arrived at school on time.

State school board member Laura Kohler shared her support for local control, but said she was concerned about the precedent set by the decision.

Labeling a 15-mile ride as a hardship has “the potential to open the floodgates,” for other districts to shed private school routes, she argued.

Schaum said the board won’t immediately cut the Lake Ridge route. The Oberlin district will still have to provide “payment in lieu of transportation” under state law.

That means taxpayers will still cover up to $925 per student to offset Lake Ridge transportation costs. That number is based on the average cost to drive each private school student in the 2015-2016 school year.

Schaum wants to consult parents first to determine what monetary amount is best.

Jessa New, a Lake Ridge parent who has been vocal about the issue in past meetings, said the parent group is grateful for the opportunity to present its case to King. They respect Oberlin’s position but the group is considering its options.

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

By Laurie Hamame