Issue of busing in ETC debated at board meeting

Skip Schulz/For the Gazette Parents of preschool students raised the issue of busing for Ewen-Trout Creek preschool children at Wednesday’s board meeting.

EWEN — Parents and Ewen-Trout Creek School Board members discussed busing preschool children before Wednesday’s agenda items at a school board meeting.

Three parents questioned the school district’s policy of not providing busing to the pre-kindergarten children. E-TC had advertised the district would provide busing but had to pull that promotion from their website.

“You had it on your website that busing would be available,” one parent reminded the board and administration.

E-TC Superintendent Alan Tulppo said the busing provision was recently removed from the website.

Parents addressing the board during the meeting’s public comment period conceded the cost would be expensive for a special bus that would meet state requirements.

“You’re looking at thousands of dollars for a bus with child safety restraints, and that is not the only expense. We would have to hire chaperones and pay them minimum wage,” Tulppo said.

One parent asked, “What is the specific number (cost) to install special children harnesses in the seats, along with the other costs? … Maybe we can do a fund-raiser if we know what we need.”

Another parent asked if contracting with Ontonagon Public Transit (On-Tran) is an option.

Tulppo said state laws and requirements, along with rules that On-Tran might have, does not allow for that option.

Throughout the lengthy discussion, Tulppo told the board and those in attendance that districts which provide busing for preschool children are receiving funding from either the state or federal government. “Whether it is through Head Start or the Great Student Readiness program, those districts were eligible for a good share of the funding for the busing,” he said.

Tulppo said he did check into the different sources of government funding, but due to the numbers in the program, parents qualifying based on income, and the few spots open in the government programs, E-TC was unable to get government assistance.

“I am a strong believer in preschool,” Tulppo said. “Studies have shown how this program not only gets the children socialized but also gives them a better chance to succeed once they get into the K-12 program.

“It’s important for the board and everyone to remember, we set a budget. We’re holding to that budget.”

Tulppo said in other Copper Country districts, preschool programs charge between $4-5 per hour.

“This is not affordable for our families,” Tulppo said.

It wasn’t just the cost but also the guidelines and regulations dealing with busing.

“It even comes down to a parent having to be at the bus stop when the child is dropped off,” he said.

Later in the meeting, E-TC Transportation Director Tammy Gibson talked about the revised bus stop locations for K-12 students.

“We look at visibility and speed limit when deciding as to where the bus will stop,” she said. “Then many times the students move during the year, and the bus stop locations will change.”

The distance and time the district has for busing students is also a factor, she said.

“We pick up students from Ontonagon to Paulding, from Kenton to White Pine,” Gibson said. “We have some students we’re picking up at 6:30 in the morning. Our bus drivers are on the road by 5:30 a.m.”

Even with the long hours students are on the bus to attend school, the E-TC District has more children enrolled this year than it budgeted for. “We were shooting for 195 students, we’re currently at 204. The ‘School of Choice’ program has helped E-TC.” Tulppo said.

The E-TC School District continues to be in strong financial health. After two payrolls, E-TC has almost $900,000 of cash on hand.