No matter what part of the 150 square miles within the Rockwood School District one resides, potential transportation changes are sparking conversations. Under heavy recent discussion is whether bus routes and overall pickup service should be altered in a major way in the future.
Many Rockwood residents fear future changes will result in the need for currently unavailable, alternative transportation as well as new pockets of congestion.
Bill Sloan, Rockwood director of transportation, earlier this month issued a survey to parents of high school students in hopes of better planning bus routes for the 2011-2012 school year to maximize transportation efficiency. The deadline for responding to the survey was April 11.
"Historically, Rockwood has always picked up students within about a mile from schools. Although, in the last eight to nine years, we've picked up students within a half mile of schools, mostly due to so many parents working," said Sloan. "Our community asked us to pick up more and more kids over time, often due to safety reasons."
Although Sloan indicated a Missouri mandate requires school districts to provide bus transportation for students who live 3.5 miles and beyond from school buildings, he said Rockwood managers recognized that bus transportation was preferred to students trying to navigate many of the district's rugged roadways or those without sidewalks.
With survey results just in, Sloan said a total of 2,490 households were represented in respondents. He said the same type of transportation survey was conducted last year. Rockwood high schools, including and , represent approximately 7,550 students overall.
Of those parents who responded to the survey, 80 percent indicated their students would use buses both to and from school. Also, among respondents, indicators were that 86 percent of high school students would ride buses four to five days each week.
Sloan said among respondents, 683 households indicated their high schooler would not ride a bus.
Regarding the breakdown of grade levels reflected among respondents to this survey, a fairly even range was represented across the four schools:
- 900 freshmen
- 760 sophomores
- 700 juniors
- 560 seniors
"The biggest transportation inefficiencies occur on the outskirts of our district, such as in Eureka and Fenton where residences are spread out," said Sloan. "However, time is the critical factor each school morning, with most of the buses running a three-tiered system of delivering students."
He said bus drivers barely have enough time to drop off middle school students around 7:15 a.m. before picking up high schoolers and getting them to school by 8:10 a.m., followed by picking up elementary students and delivering them by 8:50 a.m.
"We just can't fill up every bus to the max under this type of time schedule," said Sloan, who sometimes rides entire bus routes himself to personally evaluate details.
He said he receives complaints about buses with only 15 to 20 students aboard, but those concerns typically are about buses on routes under known time constraints.
Some Bus Transportation May Be Dropped in 2012-2013
Eliminating bus transportation within the immediate radius of Rockwood schools is one of the proposed items on this week's list of for the 2012-2013 school year.
Establishing the new distance for bus services received to outside of 2.5 miles around each Rockwood school building is projected to save $1.5 million. Another $1.5 million is saved if that distance is further increased to 3.5 miles around schools.
At Tuesday's input session for public feedback held at in Ellisville, some patrons voiced concerns about the notion of dropping bus service to Rockwood students less than 3.5 miles from school buildings.
For example, Bill Wilkins, of Wildwood, said changing current bus transportation arrangements would affect the entire neighborhood around in several negative ways. "It would create a logistical nightmare (if students in The Wildhorse Subdivision) couldn't ride the bus," he said.
Wilkins estimated that dropping bus coverage to those living within 2.5 miles of Chesterfield Elementary would prompt 95 percent of the students' families there to have to drive to school, which would cause quite a traffic jam twice daily.
Wilkins said he lives 2 miles from the school. He said when he asked questions at the transportation discussion table Tuesday evening, he was told that of the 8,800 Rockwood elementary students, only 1,400 get bus service.
"And the proposed changes in bus transportation disportionately affect the elementary school students, compared to middle or high school students," he said.
He predicted a switch in bus transportation would result in many families then applying for their children to attend , which he pointed out causes a whole other issue.
Related discussion items were about the geographic differences in the district regarding transportation considerations, with the more compact areas of Ballwin cited as a different scenario for bus routes.