New signs, a new traffic flow plan and the presence of Clark County Sheriff’s deputies are all part of a plan to improve safety as Shawnee High School busing officially ends Monday morning.
“It’s certainly a challenge,” said Clark-Shawnee Local Schools Superintendent Gregg Morris. “The high school is communicating with our parents, and the district is communicating with parochial and private school parents. We’re doing all we can.”
Busing at the high school was expected to be eliminated Jan. 6 after a levy failed for the third time in less than a year in November. But just before Christmas, Morris announced that due to safety concerns, the halting of busing would be pushed back to March 3. The decision cost the district approximately $15,000.
With a dangerous intersection in front of the school and possibly 740 students converging upon the area during the same time frame, and 220 to 240 who will be driving, the main concern is obvious.
“As always, safety is a major concern,” said Morris. “We’re putting more individual vehicles on the road, and more student drivers and more parents will be driving. That is not as safe an environment as when they were on buses.”
The intersection of East Possum Road and Selma Pike will be a major focus. According to data reported by ODOT and ODPS data, there were five accidents within 500 feet of the intersection between 2010-2012, three of which resulted in injuries. It is currently a two-way stop at East Possum with no stop sign or light on Selma, where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour.
“We are working with the county engineer and the township to improve the intersection,” Morris said. “We would prefer to have a traffic light there. That is the direction everyone would prefer.”
Besides the new signage, there has also been discussion about adding electronic alerting equipment. And the sheriff’s department will be on hand to aid in the transition.
“The sheriff’s department has been extremely cooperative and helpful, and we will have presence here for a few days,” said Morris. “We appreciate how they’ve responded to our needs.”
The new plan will also include a reverse traffic flow through the main lane in front of the high school, which is designated for drop-offs only. Instead of entering from East Possum and exiting onto Selma, drivers will enter from Selma and exit onto East Possum.
“We did it to keep the pressure off that intersection a little bit so it doesn’t back up, and to make it easier to do right-handed turns off of and onto Selma,” said Nathan Dockter, Shawnee’s principal. “The suggestion was originally made by county engineers. We already had a plan in place, and took some of what we had planned and what they had suggested and we put it together.
“I feel pretty good about it,” he continued.
Shawnee will be the fourth Clark County high school this school year to end busing due to budget woes. Tecumseh, Northeastern and Kenton Ridge all ended busing last August, with mixed results at first.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a perfect process,” said Lou Kramer, Northeastern Local Schools superintendent. “You have to adapt and make new routines.
“Safety is, of course, a large concern, but it needs to be understandable that it is a shared responsibility between the parents and the school district,” said Kramer. “When you reduce a service like this, parents have to make decisions in the process, and what is safest for their child has to enter into that process.”
It does affect decisions involving weather delays and snow days.
“While it’s a shared responsibility, you are cognizant that you may have an increased number of kids walking and an increased number of kids driving, and they are inexperienced drivers,” said Kramer. “You are probably more conservative in your decision-making.”
Tecumseh Superintendent Brad Martin was direct.
“To say it was perfect, we’d have to be crazy,” he said. “Nothing is ever perfect, and you have to continuously look at it and monitor it. But I do say we are pretty close to having it done. The process is now efficient.”
Martin said they are getting all cars out of the parking lot 2-3 minutes quicker than last year when they had busing. One of the main reasons was mandatory parking until dismissal time instead of lining up. Teamwork is another.
“The best thing we did was we involved everybody,” said Martin. “It’s been a work in progress.”
Shawnee doesn’t anticipate any parking problems.
“We believe the majority of students who want to drive are already driving,” Morris said. “We are not anticipating a major problem in that respect.”
Morris hopes the experience will be short-term.
“If we’re successful in passing our levy on May 6, we’ll have the plans in place to restore transportation by the following Monday at the latest, maybe even a day or two before,” he said.
Shawnee has a 10-year, 6.95-mill levy on the ballot, which would generate about $2.26 million annually.
Morris realizes the inconvenience the end of high school busing will cause.
“We had a meeting back in early December to talk with parents, and there were some very anxious and annoyed parents at that meeting,” said Morris.
“But we’ve cut the academic programs as far as we can cut them, and we’ve already done some damage to our academic program,” said Morris. “Now we are in the service area, and it’s a cut we don’t want to make.
“We are in a dismantling mode. We’re dismantling the district. This is serious stuff.”
Morris does have faith in his community.
“I have never worked in a community where individuals love their school like they do here at Clark-Shawnee,” he said. “I understand times are tough, and there’s an anger out there about taxes. But we are not effectively communicating the degree of our financial difficulty.
“Now we are backed into a corner, and sort of at a turning point. The cuts are going to get worse and worse until we get this fixed.”
The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering schools in Clark County, including recent stories on Shawnee’s budget woes, the third-grade reading guarantee and the statewide implementation of the Common Core learning standards.