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Parents to Governor: Don’t Send Rural Schoolchildren on Wild Ride

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File -- Children take their bus to school. (credit: Don Murray/Getty Image)

File — Children take their bus to school. (credit: Don Murray/Getty Image)

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ST.ALBANS, Mo. (KMOX) With their children walking through the door an hour and a half or more after class let out for the day, some parents in St. Albans picked up a video camera and tailed the bus to prove the route was longer than state law allowed. What one parent says he caught on tape was a bus full of kids, barrelling down winding, rural roads. The whole issue has ended up on the Governor’s desk.

“I’ve got a tape here that shows this bus full of kids, going ten, fifteen, twenty miles over the speed limit. This is not on a flat highway in the middle of Kansas. This is on Highway T!”

Cory Kraft holds up a video camera. In the view screen you can see a bus travelling up and down curving, country roads. The camera focuses on a speed limit sign, then pans over to a car’s speedometer. “How fast we going here Joe? 55 miles an hour. In a 40. 55 over a hill, around a turn.”

Cory Kraft wanted to time the route from his home in St. Albans to the high school in the Washington Missouri school district. State regulation limits a bus ride to 75 minutes. If it’s longer a family can apply for a transportation hardship — their school system foots the bill for them to attend a closer school in another district. “It makes no sense at all to have any rule on the books that would ever give a bus full of kids an incentive to meet a time.”

Kraft did win a transfer to a much closer high school in Rockwood’s District. He didn’t stop there — helping to push legislation through the general assembly that would limit school bus travel in miles… rather than minutes. If the Governor rejects it, though, Kraft’s kids could be back where they started.

“I understand that parents don’t like their students on the bus for longer than they have to be. But we also make a decision when we purchase a home and we know what school district that home is in,”
points out Washington School Superintendent, Dr. Lori VanLeer. VanLeer says she’s solved the original issue by creating a new — 35 minute — bus route to St. Albans.

Parents like Cory Kraft say it’s too little, too late.

The whole issue has turned into a complicated battle.

“I had never seen a videotape, nor was I aware of a speeding bus,” says VanLeer. “I have no record of that. Nor was that brought to my attention, nor was that shared with me. I would consider that pretty significant. In terms of breaking the law and speeding, I was not brought into the loop on that.”

Kraft admits he didn’t share it directly with the superintendent, but says he did alert state police and state education officials.

VanLeer tells KMOX she was also left in the dark about parents’ previous complaints of lengthy bus rides. “They didn’t call and ask me about a transportation hardship until they actually filled out the paperwork. Those parents never came to meet with me or set up an appointment to meet with me. And as soon as I understood the complexity of the situation for them, we began to look at solutions.”

Cory Kraft disputes VanLeer’s claim, saying the Superintendent should have been well aware of continued complaints. “There had been letters and phone calls, and these are documented, making Washington schools aware for years that this bus was coming in way late.” Kraft provided KMOX News with logs made by parents of bus times and e-mails sent to school administrators. In one of those e-mails, a Washington school official suggests carpooling to a parent as a solution.

Ultimately the district added the new dedicated but route. Kraft points out that didn’t happen until the state told Washington to pay to send several families to Rockwood.

“We have not only sent the tuition, but we’ve also added a route, and our transportation funding is getting cut.” Superintendent VanLeer says it adds up to roughly $60,000 in tuition to Rockwood schools and $30,000 for a dedicated bus to pick up a handful of students in St. Albans. VanLeer adds, the bulk of it is paid with local property tax — not state funds — because of the way the Missouri’s funding formula is designed.

“There’s only three kids on the bus. They’re spending 30-thousand-dollars a year to race a bus in here for just three kids. That’s the same cost if not more just to send the kids to Rockwood.” Points out Kraft. He hopes to convince the Governor the tuition is a small price to pay for safety and educational quality. “They can get sick. They can get hurt. You can have bad weather coming in. What if they need help with math or science and they have to stay after school or go in early. Well where we live now if we we’re going to Washington schools, that would be an hour round-trip.” By going to a closer school in an adjacent district, the ride to school for Kraft’s two high schoolers is fifteen minutes or less.

Meanwhile, VanLeer says she’s researching to see if the bill is unconstitutional because it only applies to three districts and whether it violates the Hancock Amendment by creating a new burden for a school district.

The Governor’s office tells KMOX they are reviewing the bill before any decision is made.

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