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CHUH Cuts & Busing Issues (edited)

                                  Thursday, January 27, 2000

                                  By JEFF SIKOROVSKY
                                  The Sun Press

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS - The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education laid off four school bus drivers Monday.

 Masem said the board's decision to limit busing to comply with state guidelines was precipitated by the 8.9-mill levy defeat in November.
Now the district needs to cut $6.2 million from its operating budget.

 "We're cutting everything we can and staying away from the classroom. Our core mission is educating people," he said.

 Masem denied the cut was a punitive measure to garner support for the 9.4-mill levy on the March 7 ballot.

 The new levy would generate $8 million in revenue a year and allow the district to maintain its downsized academic programming for three years.

 The additional 1/2-mil added to the March levy will, if passed, provide an extra $428,000 a year. It could restore busing or other cuts.

 Masem said, however, "The board hasn't discussed what it would restore. Busing has come up in discussions around this issue, but there are no guarantees given our financial situation. The idea was to give the board some leverage to do something if the levy passes."

 The district has already cut more than $5 million by eliminating more than 70 employees, limiting maintenance and custodial services, and slashing equipment repair and purchasing budgets.

 "Nobody wants to make any of these cuts," he said. "We're still struggling to find the last $600,000-$700,000."

 The move came in preparation for big changes in transportation policies, effective Feb. 7.

 Starting that day, in order to be bused, pupils in grades K-5 must live at least two miles away from their schools.

 Under the new policy, 1,276 students - 821 public school and 455 private school children - will lose busing privileges. A majority of the 1,497 students that can be bused are private school children.

 Eligibility has been one mile for elementary school students and two miles for middle school students. Cleveland Heights High School students are not bused.

 The only exception is special education children who are now bused. They will not be affected.

 The change will save $166,500 from the district's operating budget this year and $333,000 next year, for a combined cut of $499,500.

 The district sent a letter to 4,200 households Saturday notifying parents of the change and outlining the new policy.

 It said the mayors of Cleveland Heights, University Heights and South Euclid have been notified so they can add crossing guards. These are the responsibility of each city, not the school system.

 Alan Wolf, the district's business manager, said parents of students still entitled to bus rides will be notified this week of new pick up times.

 Gearity Elementary School in University Heights will be affected the most, according to Kim Poindexter, Gearity's PTA president and mother of three.

 Poindexter said 243 of the school's 301 students, about 80 percent, will be affected.

 "We are suggesting car-pooling if that's possible," she added.

 Poindexter lives on Cummings Road, 1.8 miles from Gearity where her two girls are in kindergarten and second grade. Danielle, 7, the second grader said, "We're not walking. We're too little."

 "Elementary school children should not have to walk that far to go to school. We are not a rural community," Poindexter added.

 Her children will have to walk down Cedar Road, cross Warrensville Center Road, and Belvoir Boulevard at Silsby Road to get to Gearity, she said.

 "It's a disaster to even drive. My kids would have the whole Cedar Center to walk. It's ridiculous," she added.

 "Down the line, we don't know what the impact will be. It could affect student performance, and parental and public support. I think if people support the community they live in, they'll support the school system."

 She added, however, "If people have $15,000 to spend to send their kids to Hathaway Brown, then they can pay for their own bus."

 Gearity Principal Renee Harrison said, "A majority of our students are bused. I've been getting calls from parents already. They're very distraught about it and are wondering what their options are."

 Harrison said students who must walk almost two miles may delay the start of school. The first bell rings at 8:45 a.m.

 "I know that we will probably end up having high absenteeism and tardiness rates. That's going to impact the academic programming. The students would miss out on a lot," she said. She favors restoring busing.

 District Superintendent Paul Masem said Monday that upset parents with questions are leaving messages on his voice mail.

To Read the unedited article, please go to. . . . . . Sun Press