MERCED -- A number of parents have voiced concerns to Merced Union High School District trustees about their decision last spring to cut busing for students living within five miles of their campuses.
Nearly a dozen parents told trustees Wednesday night they are worried about their children walking or riding bicycles long distances to school. Several others said they couldn't afford to buy passes for students to ride The Bus public transit service to campus.
The biggest problems seem to be in the Beachwood-Franklin and South Merced areas.
Steve Walters lives off Highway 140 near Home Depot. His 17-year-old daughter and her girlfriend live 3.3 miles from Merced High School. He said it takes them one hour and five minutes to walk to school, passing a dangerous intersection and homeless people who often linger in the area.
"It's like throwing kids into shark-infested waters and telling them to figure out how to get there," Walters said. "This is not the best side of town. The intersection of V and 13th streets is dangerous, and the bus costs are getting kind of crazy."
Trustee Mike Carpenter said that when the change was made it was expected there would be issues that would need addressing. He said district staff members are committed to helping people find a solution to get their children to school as safely as possible.
"The consensus was we want the staff to work with folks in the area to find a workable solution," Carpenter said. "One area that appears to need attention is the Beachwood area."
Carpenter cited statistics from Superintendent Scott Scambray showing that 97 percent to 98 percent of the district's students are getting to classes this fall, which he called "a pretty good number."
Walters' wife, Cindy, said four or five homeless people have been sleeping on the bench at the pickup point for The Bus and that one woman even cursed at her daughter.
"Safety-wise, you never know," Cindy Williams said. "That's just ridiculous. It's almost $500, and that's a lot of money," she said of the bus passes. "The kids are way too far away to walk to school." The website for The Bus lists the cost of an Unlimited Student Semester Pass at $180.
Ana Cintron lives off Highway 59 in South Merced. Her children, a 17-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, go to Golden Valley High School, which she estimates is four to five miles away.
Cintron said she doesn't have the money to buy bus passes. It took her two hours to walk to the school from her home. She said riding bicycles to the school from her area is also risky.
Zelda Johnson, a single parent, lives in the Beachwood area. Her child lives four miles away from Bu-hach Colony High School in Atwater. She said there are dogs roaming in the area and the roads aren't safe.
"When I left the board meeting I felt like nothing would be done," Johnson said. "It's ridiculous. I don't know why they did that, and I hope they reinstate bus service."
Johnson said it's a hardship for her to get her daughter to school on time and get to work, too. She said her daughter has received several tardy notices.
Trustee Dave Honey said the district still needs to make adjustments to its transportation programs, but the issues can be worked out. "With some it comes down to not having money to catch the bus," Honey said.
If Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative doesn't pass in the November election, Honey said, the district will have to come up with $5 million in reductions to cover expenses.
"I don't know where we will come up with cuts," Honey said.