By Sue Botos
It has taken over a year, but the verdict is in on the question of busing some private school students living in Rocky River.
By a unanimous vote at its December legislative session, the state board of education ruled that the Rocky River district must continue to provide transportation to students attending St. Bernadette School and St. Paul Lutheran School, both in Westlake, and St. Raphael School in Bay Village.
Superintendent Michael Shoaf said that he was not surprised at the outcome. “Both sides made their presentations and the state made its decision,” he told West Life. He added that the district had no plans to appeal the verdict.
In August 2012, the Rocky River school board voted to discontinue bus service to the three private schools in an effort to trim costs after the defeat of a 5.9-mill operating levy. Shoaf said that community meetings were held to discuss possible areas of reduction, and that transportation was cited as one area targeted for cuts.
In making their decision, board members pointed out that there were too few students, six each for St. Raphael and St. Paul and eight for St. Bernadette, to warrant the time and cost of transportation service, which at that time consisted of multiple buses. Parents of the students protested to the board at the August 2012 legislative session, but the board unanimously approved legislation to discontinue the service.
By state law, districts must provide transportation to all elementary aged children living one mile or more from their school, and to sixth- through eighth-graders more than two miles away. Families may be offered a stipend, which according to district transportation manager Erin Peacock could run about $200 per child, in lieu of busing, but the parents took their case to the state. They felt that because they pay taxes and reside in the city, their children should be offered the same services as those attending public schools.
Factoring in driver pay and fuel costs of about $3.60 a mile, Peacock said that the transportation of a child could run between $900 and $1,000 annually. She added that under state law, a student attending a private school must be provided with district busing as long as other children at that grade level are transported, their school is chartered and the ride takes less than 30 minutes.
State school legislators cited what they felt was the district’s use of the transportation issue as a bargaining chip for a new levy campaign as a reason for their decision. Rocky River officials disagreed with this charge, stating that the move was made only to trim costs. A second 4.9-mill levy was passed in November 2012.
While the families awaited word from the state, which has the final word on any suspension of transportation to students, busing continued as usual. Peacock said that the routes have been reconfigured so that one bus covers all three schools.
Peacock added that the district also provides busing to 310 students attending St. Christopher School in Rocky River. These routes are shared with Kensington Intermediate School, which is on the same time schedule. In addition, 48 students are transported to St. Angela Merici in Fairview Park, 45 to Rocky River’s Ruffing Montessori and 31 to Lakewood Catholic Academy.