A group of about 50 parents gathered Thursday in the Grant Elementary gym to hear District 110 Superintendent Matt Stines explain why state cuts forced the school to cut half its bus routes.
But short of a donor writing a six- or seven-figure check to restore service, Stines was unable to give parents an alternative to the district's plans to stop offering bus service to students who live a mile and an half or less from school."
"If Bill Gates came in here and wrote us a million-dollar check, I would restore the buses in a minute," Stines said. "We understand how valuable that service is to you. But with the state cutting our transportation revenue by nearly 50 percent this year, we just don't have the money to pay for it."
Parents said they were worried about their kids walking along or across the busy streets in the district including Lincoln Trail, Bunkum Road and Old Lincoln Trail. They were also worried about predators having more access to children.
"We've got too much traffic here for kids to be walking to school," parent Jason Lane said. "In a lot of places, there are no sidewalks. Where are the kids supposed to walk? And then there is the fact that just up the road there's a motel where the police are once a week or more."
Lane was also concerned about the walkway on the Bunkum Road overpass at Interstate 64, where no guard rail protects pedestrians from traffic.
Fairview Heights Mayor Gail Mitchell said he's working with St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern to try to get a guard rail installed on the bridge.
Stines added that he has asked police to increase patrols in the area to help keep kids safe from speeders and potential predators. And he said both Grant Elementary and Illini Middle School will be open earlier to accommodate parents who want to drop their children off at school on their way to work. He suggested Grant parents might want to enroll their children in the district Latchkey program at Illini School. There, kids can be dropped off early and then ride a bus from Illini to Grant.
Parent Tarah Lane said she has daughters in sixth and eighth grades in the district, and she doesn't intend to force them to walk a mile and a half in extreme temperatures or bad weather.
"If it's 107 degrees outside or if it's 10 degrees below zero, I can't see forcing my daughters to walk to school," Lane said. "I guess they're going to have to be counted absent."
District 110 was supposed to get $284,000 in state bus reimbursement last year but actually received only $197,000. This year the state said it could only afford to pay $137,000. The district expects to bring in $142,500 in local bus revenue for a total of about $280,000. Stines said bus service costs about $586,000 per year.
While Grant leaders said they can't afford to subsidize the buses, which Stines estimated cost $200 per bus per day, other school leaders in St. Clair County are resisting cutting bus service.
Belleville District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said his district will not reduce bus service because he fears if it did attendance would suffer.
General state aid is based on student attendance, so Klosterman said it is more valuable to his district to take a loss on the buses to put kids in their desk chairs.
Stines said some districts, including neighboring Pontiac School District in Fairview Heights, can afford to keep up their bus service because they draw more local tax revenue. Pontiac's tax base includes St. Clair Square and Target, while District 110 is mostly residential property.
He estimated Pontiac brings in 10 times as much local bus revenue at the state mandated rate of 12 cents per hundred of assessed valuation.
Stines assured parents if the state catches up on its finances and restores transportation funding that the buses will be restored. But he said it can't afford to pay for the bus service otherwise.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2626.