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A new school subject: Learning from the older kids on bus

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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Students of all ages could soon share space on Lincoln’s school buses. That’s because kindergartners through twelfth-graders might ride on the same bus as part of proposed Western Placer Unified School District budget cuts. This would enable the school district to get rid of five bus routes, which would save the district money without any bus drivers losing jobs, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business Joyce Lopes in a previous News Messenger report. Busing all ages on the same bus could save the district $178,000 a year, and the district has also proposed only bussing students that live outside the city limits, according to Lopes last week. The district needs to cut $1.9 million from it’s budget for the 2011-2011 school year. This would eliminate four bus routes but bus drivers’ jobs would be saved because the district is proposing to “provide special education transportation in-house,” instead of paying an outside bus company, according to Lopes. Those three proposed changes to transportation could save the district $380, 500. According to Western Placer Unified School District Superintendent Scott Leaman, combining all grades on busses isn’t totally new. “We’ve done this type of transportation in the past, and we split the routes probably six years ago,” Leaman said. “Buses don’t seem as full as they should be, and in some cases, we have some buses following each other on the same route.” Liz DePietro, who has a sixth-grader at Twelve Bridges Middle School, said she doesn’t “think it’s a good idea” to mix age groups on the bus. “I think that’s way too hard for the school bus driver,” DePietro said. “There’s no way they could monitor (the kids) unless they had assigned seats.” She speaks from experience, DePietro said, as her daughter rode a school bus earlier this year that combined middle school and high school kids for about eight weeks. DePietro then decided to start driving her daughter to school. This was after hearing from her daughter what topics older students talked about and what words they used. DePietro said she “decided no more bus.” “I think older kids are just older kids and have different conversation topics, and they’ll talk about things middle school kids and elementary school kids shouldn’t be learning from them,” she said. “I think it wasn’t a very safe environment.” On the other hand, Carol Cummings doesn’t object to the mixing of age groups because “it’s a great idea to save money.” “I have a 15-year-old daughter, and when she was in first grade she rode the bus, and there were never any problems,” said Cummings, who also has a fifth-grader at First Street School. “She was always safe because they put the high school kids in the back and the younger kids up front.” Leaman said “safety when riding the bus is our No. 1 concern,” and that school bus drivers could “level seats” by putting older kids in the back and younger up front. “There are almost no 11th and 12th-grade riders,” as well as “few ninth-graders,” according to Leaman. “There are 90 bus passes for ninth through 12th grades in the city limits, and many of the riders are first through eighth graders,” Leaman said. There are a total of 1100 kindergarten through high school bus passes for the entire district, with 500 of those students living outside of the city limits, according to Leaman, with half the number of those kids riding the bus on any given day. The district’s bus system also has a discipline system, according to Leaman, so bus drivers can issue citations to parents if their child misbehaves. If the behavior continues to be a problem, the student can lose their bus privilege, which Leaman said “is pretty rare.”