Oberlin taxpayers will continue paying to bus 18 students to a private school outside the city after an effort to eliminate it stalled.
Board of education members tabled a proposal at their June 28 meeting that would have saved $40,000 by eliminating busing for students to Lake Ridge Academy in North Ridgeville.
Two of the students are from Wellington and are dropped off in Oberlin by their parents or guardians. The decision came after two parents who attend Lake Ridge complained.
Jessa New said she started sending her daughter to Lake Ridge after the Oberlin Schools didn’t adequately respond to complaints that her daughter was bullied. New, who has another child in Oberlin Schools, say she is a taxpayer who has volunteered in the district and donated to it. She acknowledged the Oberlin Schools aren’t legally obligated to pay for the busing.
“Simply because you’re not obligated legally to do it does not mean that philosophically there isn’t a moment that, perhaps, you shouldn’t be thinking about alternatives,” New said. “We’re not asking you to pay the tuition. We’re just asking you to help make sure they get back and forth to school safely.”
Parent Barbara Hoyt said the $40,000 is a “pittance” compared to the taxes residents pay to Oberlin, which has a $14.4 million general fund budget. Of the $1.4 million, about $5.1 million comes from property taxes and nearly $4.2 million is from income taxes, according to treasurer Angela Dotson.
“I don’t believe that you should hold kids hostage to this district by not providing them transportation,” Hoyt said.
However, parent Sandra Redd, who has frequently accused board members of overspending, said the district refused to bus her daughter to a special needs summer camp because not enough students were attending to fill the bus.
Redd said she was offered a transportation voucher instead. “It’s kind of a double standard,” said Redd, who rejected the voucher and drove her daughter instead.
Superintendent David Hall said he devised the plan as part of overall cost-cutting measures that have been discussed since August.
The savings would come from laying off one of the district’s nine part-time bus drivers and from lower gas and mileage expenses for the nine-bus fleet, which carries about 400 of the district’s 1,000 students.
Hall said Lake Ridge representatives couldn’t afford to pay to have the students bused to their 93- acre campus. Lake Ridge’s website bills it as “the only independent college preparatory school on Cleveland’s west side.” About 30 percent of the 417 students on the 93-acre campus receive financial aid, according to the website.
If the board approved the proposal, parents would’ve received $250 transportation vouchers for the 2016-2017 school year and had the right to appeal the decision to the Ohio Department of Education.
Hall said an appeal decision would take three to six months and Oberlin would be obligated to bus the students during the appeal.
Given the appeal length, the lack of time parents had to prepare alternative transportation, and the relatively short distance to Lake Ridge — about 30 miles round-trip — board member Albert Borroni said he favored continuing busing.
“We should make an effort to work with (parents) to figure out how to get those kids there,” he said.
Borroni, board member Rosa Gadsden, board vice president Anne Schaum, and board president Ken Stanley voted to table the plan. Board member Barry Richard voted against it.
Richard said it was wrong for Oberlin taxpayers to be spending their money to bus students to a private school outside Oberlin. And he said the plan would give Hall leverage in convincing Lake Ridge to pay for the busing.
Richard said he wants more students in Oberlin, which has lost about 100 students in the last decade. “Providing busing gives parents another avenue to send our kids to private school rather than here and I do not want to encourage that,” he said.
In other business, Richard said the board’s June 13 decision to not place a levy on the November ballot for a $35.5 million pre- kindergarten through 12th grade school was a mistake.
The school would’ve replaced Oberlin’s four aging schools in 2020 and board members estimated it would’ve saved roughly $1 million annually in maintenance costs.
The local cost of the building would have been paid with a 3.81-mill, 37-year property tax costing the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $132 annually; and a 30-year, 0.50 percent income tax costing $204 annually for a worker earning $40,000 yearly.
Some residents objected to the cost but Richard said the long-term savings, record-low interest rates, and a better learning environment justified the expense.
“This would have been the perfect time to invest in our community,” he said. “I really felt this was our time to become something unique for Oberlin.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.