ATWATER — Merced Union High School District trustees Wednesday night voted to restore some student bus service to Beachwood-Franklin, Atwater-Winton and Merced areas, starting early next month.
The board's 4-0 vote during a 40-minute meeting in the Atwater High School library was met by sustained applause from parents. Morning-only bus service is due to resume April 8 on four routes for the rest of the 2012-2013 school year, which ends in June.
Decisions on extending these part-time services for the next school year could come at future board meetings.
Trustee Dora Crane said she was very happy with the outcome of Wednesday's vote, saying it is beneficial for students and will keep everybody safe. She said the action was a good starting point in keeping communication open with parents.
Leonard Kahn, the district's assistant superintendent for business, said adding the four part-time routes will add no more than $200,000 in costs for the current school year. He estimated adding 10 part-time bus routes and restoring service to a 2½-mile radius of the student's campus could cost an additional $600,000 for the next school year.
Board President Ida Johnson said safety is the board's top issue and trustees would address the transportation issue again.
Merced High parent Steven Walters, who has spoken out repeatedly against the board's curtailment of bus services nearly a year ago, thanked trustees for their action.
"Your actions show you take the matter seriously," Walters said. "We want to continue to work with you and this was a good first step."
Last year the board furloughed 15 bus drivers and limited bus transportation to more than five miles from the student's home campus. Two incumbent trustees re-election bids failed last November, and the Merced City Council and an advocacy group pressed the board to reconsider the cutbacks.
Community activist Rachelle Abril praised the board for bringing back bus service, saying it's needed. She said the safety of youth is the "number one thing."
Michelle Xiong, a youth coordinator with the community activist group Building Healthy Communities, called adding the buses an important first step. She said students' stress and anxiety over busing affects their health and ability to succeed in school. She hopes suitable alternatives will be found for the next school year.
Phoebe Seaton with the California Rural Legal Assistance group said difficulties with transportation cutbacks occurred when the public wasn't sufficiently engaged in the budget process. She urged district officials to push for more school funds now that the Proposition 30 funding measure was approved.
Frank Abarca, a parent, thanked trustees, staff members and California School Employees Association members for their help with reinstating bus service and reducing risks to students.
"It's a step in the right direction," Abarca said. "I hope to see continued collaboration; we are all in this together."
Parent Joseph Zamora urged school officials to make multiple attempts to keep parents informed about busing additions or changes.
Kahn showed where district buses would pick up Beachwood-Franklin students at the El Tagreb Market near Santa Fe Drive at 6:45 and 7:15 a.m. Another bus for Atwater High School students would pick up students at the same times at the Winton library.
A bus for Golden Valley High School students would stop at 6:45 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. at G Street and Gerard Avenue. One bus is due to pick up Merced High School students at Stephen Leonard Park at 6:45 a.m. and a second bus could be added if there are more students, Kahn said.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.