Parents are outraged that the Ocean View School District has cut bus services for some students, leaving them worried about how their kids will get to and from school safely as parents have to work.
Some parents showed up to the district board meeting Tuesday to share their concerns and call on elected trustees to resume school bus services, while district officials say there isn’t enough funding.
“No child should be expected to walk or ride a bike or even skateboard on a busy street and risk their lives trying to get to school. Many families are at high risk and parents are stretched to be at work and cannot drive their kids to and from school in the middle of the day,” Gigi Nguyen, a single mom in the district, said at Tuesday’s board meeting.
In a phone interview prior, Nguyen said she called on parents to attend the meeting and voice their concerns on the lack of transportation services for students.
About 16 people either spoke or sent comments on the need for buses in the Ocean View district.
Gina Clayton-Tarvin, the district’s clerk on the board of trustees, said the decision to cut the services was made for the end of 2019-20 school year because of the cost.
She said in a phone interview Wednesday that to contract one bus route costs $100,000 and that they were only getting $55,000 from parents who paid a fee for their kids to ride the bus.
“Before we went into the COVID situation, we were spending $2.2 million to run our buses for pick-up and drop off,” Clayton-Tarvin said “There was a massive encroachment into our general fund budget to be able to bus students.”
John Briscoe, a district trustee, shared similar sentiments in a Wednesday phone interview and said there is no budget money for free busing that is not required by law.
“We don’t charge enough money to make them run and pay for themselves,” he said. “If we charge 300 bucks a month for bus service, it’s my opinion, it would pay for itself. We could provide all the busing anybody wanted.”
Parents aren’t happy with that response. They said buses are essential for students and lack of money is an excuse being used by the board.
“You can find the funds somewhere. I’ve managed many a budget and the money is there. We have a superintendent that gets a transportation allowance as part of her salary package, along with a 3% annual increase that has already been voted in,” said Heather Lenore, a parent in the district, at the meeting.
Nguyen, a single mother of a child at Marine View Middle school, added that providing safe transportation for children to go to school is foundational and called the situation a mismanagement of funds.
“We give you millions of dollars and you’re telling me you don’t have buses for my kids to go to school? That’s like saying the kids go to school and they don’t have desks and chairs,” she said in a Tuesday phone interview before the school board meeting.
At the same time, district officials say there is a shortage of bus drivers across the country.
“We have 13 bus drivers and we have about nine of them out right now because they’ve been exposed to COVID,” Clayton-Tarvin said.
Some parents said district officials should’ve made more efforts to talk to parents before making changes to the school bus services.
“Where was the survey that went out to see how this would impact the families in this community on these decisions. Last year, half of the kids didn’t attend school in person so they had no idea that this decision was even made,” Lenore said.
“These types of decisions should be overcommunicated and you need to include the public. You are here to serve us and you are not doing that, you are failing at serving the families in this school district,” she added.
Board president Patricia Singer said at the meeting transportation was discussed publicly multiple times.
“I don’t think that we did it under anybody’s rug, but I’m sorry that you guys feel that way,” she said.
Some students in the district, however, are being provided with school bus services. These exceptions include students in Oak View School as well as children with special needs.
Busing for students with special needs is required by law.
Clayton-Tarvin said exceptions have been made for Oak View students — who are primarily Latino and Title One students which the district receives funds to meet their educational needs like free lunches.
Students at Oak View are being sent to four different schools in the district after district trustees voted decades ago to split kids up to prevent the school being made up of students from one ethnicity and avoid a segregation lawsuit against the district.
“All of those schools are a pretty dramatic and far away distance from the Oak View community, so we provide buses to facilitate the children getting to school from the Oak View community as reasonable accommodation and a courteous thing to do,” Briscoe said.
Under the Mckinley-Vento act, students who are experiencing homelessness must be provided bus transportation. The act’s definition for homelessness includes two or more families living in one place.
“I would say that a large majority of the kids in Oak View actually qualify under that act,” Clayton-Tarvin said.
Meanwhile, parents who don’t fall under the exceptions and are dependent on the district’s transportation are left to find other ways to get their children to and from school.
Some parents in the district like Nguyen say the lack of transportation services at other schools in the district is a form of discrimination of less affluent families.
“This is especially discriminating to lower income families who really struggle to make ends meet and getting their kids to school,” she said at the meeting. “There’s no equity or excellence when only a select group of kids are provided bus transportation.”
Nguyen said it is not just about accessibility but about safety — a concern that other parents from Marine View School also brought up in the meeting.
“Every morning there is a huge traffic jam in this tiny little school in this bedroom community and so the parents are racing to get in and out trying to get to work. Everybody’s stressed out and so they’re double parking, they’re driving on top of each other,” Nguyen said in Tuesday’s interview.
Clayton-Tarvin promised parents that she would go look at the traffic situation at the school at the meeting.
She also said that parents have the option of paying and dropping off their children at Kids Club, a before and after school program, before they have to go to work.
In a text message Thursday, Nguyen said not everyone can afford the program.
“I have to ask my 81-year-old mom and a 72-year-old friend to battle going to the school to pick up my child now. I work from home and I’m in virtual meetings all day and I can’t go pickup my child in the middle of the day. It’s insensitive and negligent for Gina Clayton-Tarvin to think that every parent can afford $400+ monthly to put their kids into Kids Club and that includes me,” she wrote.
Like Briscoe, Clayton-Tarvin said for bus services to resume across the district, fees would have to go up for parents and will try to find a solution for parents.
“At this point, we don’t have another choice because of the massive encroachment into the budget,” she said. “We do need the parents to be able to commit to paying for some of the busing.”
As for now, parents in need of transportation can either have their kids walk or bike to school, but not all parents feel comfortable with that option and they worry for their children’s safety.
Briscoe said the state requires cities to provide a “safe school route map” that identifies the safest way to school which families can use to have their kids walk to school and kids in the same neighborhoods can walk to school together.
There is also a free Orange County Transportation Authority bus pass accessible to students and students can carpool.
Angela Zenzola, a Marine View parent, has been driving her kids and others to school. She said she has received frantic texts from moms asking her to pick up their kids.
“Thankfully, I’ve been able to do that, but what happens if those families each contact me? And I have to say no, that’s going to be a really sad day,” she said at the meeting.
Zenzola added that parents would be willing to pay more for the buses.
“We shouldn’t be worried about our kids. After the bell rings, it seems like you guys don’t care to get our kids safely back home.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.