ATWATER -- A group of more than two dozen parents made a renewed pitch to Merced Union High School District trustees Wednesday night to reinstate busing for students living within five miles of their campuses.
Parents made a roughly 20-minute presentation during the board's regular session in the Buhach Colony High School library, assisted by Building Healthy Communities representatives.
The group wants buses restored, or alternate solutions that make sense.
Steven Walters, whose daughter Mysti lives 3.3 miles from Merced High School, said he and his family are willing to work with board members to find a solution; work to pass a bond for transportation, sit on an advisory committee, help pursue Safe Routes to School funding or develop a solution not proposed yet.
"We did our part to make sure Prop. 30 passed, now we'd like you to do your part and get our school buses back on the road and our kids out of harm's way," Walters said. "Put our kids back on safe school buses and give them a safe route to school. Education is important to our family, but there has to be a better solution."
Walters said his daughter and her friend felt intimidated by people at the Transpo Center at 16th and N streets while waiting for transit system buses.
Joseph Zamora said there has been limited community understanding about bus curtailment and alternate transportation options.
He said students and their parents are not aware of the process to get grant-funded bus passes, bus passes are unaffordable and routes to school are long and unsafe.
Zamora said students waiting for county transit buses are potential targets for criminals wanting to steal their cell phones. He said parents should not allow their children to walk up to five miles to school.
Walters said someone asked his daughter's friend to use her phone to make a call to Fresno and the girl didn't argue for fear of harm. The girls were yelled at by homeless people lingering at the transit hub, he said.
In the Nov. 6 election, Trustees Mike Carpenter and Kurt Kollmann were voted out of office, and it's believed the board's decision to cut bus service played a factor in the outcome.
Earlier, Carpenter and Kollmann defended their decisions to make transportation cuts that saved the district $1.4 million, and said other reductions would not have been popular either.
Elyse Gittens called for busing to be restored and said a parent advisory committee is needed to come up with transportation solutions. She said the board needs to give each child access to a quality education.
Gittens said the district needs to provide safe ways for youth to get to school in a timely way -- by providing safety training and equipment, including whistles, bicycles, lights and helmets. She said the district should work with the county transit system to create express routes to schools.
Sam Rangel, a gang intervention specialist and the parent of 10 children, said there are 2,700 documented gang members in Merced County and probably double that number with new recruits.
Rangel said if a gang member's child gets hurt going to school, it could provoke an all-out gang war, with innocent lives taken in the process of retaliation.
Earlier Wednesday, Superintendent Scott Scambray said there is a lot of misinformation "out there."
"The board made the decision to cut where the county buses run," Scambray said. "Kids aren't walking five miles. There are other opportunities for them, but they have chosen not to take these options and aren't willing to compromise."
Tatiana Vizcaino-Stewart, hub manager for Building Healthy Communities, cited statistics showing 1,500 students have had to find other ways to get to school since the busing cutbacks.
Fifteen school bus drivers were furloughed after the board's April decision.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.