School bus

In a move that administrators say will reduce bus travel times for students, Bakersfield City School District notified parents it would be ending transportation services to GATE and Magnet program students next year. 

Starting next year, students enrolled in the Bakersfield City School District’s Magnet and GATE education programs will have to hitch their own rides to school.

The district will no longer offer bus service to the 324 kids enrolled in the enrichment programs for gifted and talented students.

Parents received letters Jan. 25 giving them three options: re-enroll students for the following year, but with the caveat that they must provide their own transportation; enroll their student through intradistrict transfer to another school of their choice; or enroll them in the school within their residential boundary.

BCSD administrators say the move, which has been under review by a third-party consultant for about a year, would reduce the number of bus routes, limit the amount of time students spend being shuttled to school and create a uniform bell schedule.

At the core of the decision, however, is this question: should the needs of 324 GATE and Magnet students be prioritized over the other about 9,000 general education students who ride the bus?

The current bus routes are built around GATE and Magnet students, a construct going back to the early 1980s, BCSD Superintendent Harry ‘Doc’ Ervin said. That means those students get priority in busing, and other students take a back seat. Some general education students must board buses as early as 5:55 a.m., Ervin said.

The new system would create more equity among students, Ervin said.

“We’re going to move forward making decisions good for kids, but equity means equity for all — not a few,” Ervin said, stressing that there isn’t another program within the district that alters bus schedules to provide transportation.

Here’s how the routes works: when a bus departs, it picks up a majority of general education students in its route who are attending one school, however if there are GATE students along the route, drivers must alter their path of travel and take those students to their campuses, said Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Mark Luque.

As a result, the majority of students are spending an average of 90 minutes on a bus each day. If GATE students were not catered to, the commutes would be shorter, Luque said.

In some cases, there’s just one GATE or Magnet program student on any given bus, but on average, there’s about five on each of the district’s 111 buses, Luque said.

“The reality is, for our district, we have to adjust. The system is not efficient and there needs to be some decisions made in terms of how we can better align,” Luque said. “To sit confined in a bus for a long period of time is not fair to any child.”

The 111 students at Bessie E. Owens Primary and Intermediate schools, which host full-day GATE and Magnet programs, account for 40 pick ups and drop offs each day, Luque said.

Despite the benefits in efficiency the district would gain from altering transportation routes, some parents and union leaders have been critical of the decision.

“There’s some very upset people about this,” Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association President Steve Comstock said. “Ervin thinks every school needs to be on a three-tier bell schedule. I don’t know how that exactly improves academic performance for all the middle schools to have their bells ring at the same time.”

Ervin said one of the major benefits is allowing middle schools and their elementary feeder schools to stay on the same schedule and conduct professional development trainings together.

Other benefits include ensuring that students are consistently picked up and dropped off each day at the same time. Reducing the number of routes decreases variables, and as a result, provides a more consistent schedule, Luque said.

“When a bus is delayed for any reason, it completely throws off the rest that run and those routes,” Luque said. “Beyond that, it’s a constant schedule so we know when kids get to school, they have time to get breakfast, use facilities, get to class on time and then learn during the day.”

The district will finalize transportation routes for the 2018-2019 school year during a meeting next month, after it collects data from parents assessing their needs, Luque said.

Part of what the district is awaiting, Luque said, are responses back from parents who have received letters notifying them of discontinued transportation services.

“We need them to declare what their intentions are, because some parents are declaring busing as a convenience instead of an actual need,” Luque said.

Once the data is analyzed, Luque said, the district will begin assessing where it can re-establish Magnet programs to reduce the distance students must travel for enrichment education. Two school sites that have been identified are McKinley and Fremont elementary schools, Luque said.

“That’s long-term planning we’re doing, but until we have every parents’ response, it’s hard to predict how it will roll out,” Luque said.

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

(7) comments

greg Thompson

This sounds like another one of Harry Ervin's stupid decisions just like his "focus school" plan.

LL1218

i wish the district had asked “my intentions” or at least done a survey of those families using the buses for Magnet and GATE before having the school board vote on this issue.

tristen

Next step for parents who have gifted students is what? Homeschooling? Is this really our best option?

tristen

WHAT?! This is insane. Perhaps if we took the issue up with our GATE kids they could come up with a better solution to the transportation mess than this.It doesn't surprise me that the transportation routes need to be re-vamped. It also wouldn't surprise me if the GATE program needed to be re-vamped (ie any sort of GATE presence in the other school sites at all). But as it stands, BCSD has one option to service the needs of the GATE identified children, and it is that if you want your GATE child to get a GATE education you have to take them to Bessie Owens (primary or intermediate) or a Middle School with the program. This is not a MAGNET program like the others at Chavez and Thorner which serve the needs of the lucky few children whose parents happened to get them on a list when they are babies. This is the one way that our advanced children can get a fair shot at an education that meets their needs, helps them stretch and grow and meet their potential. Due to the size of our district and the site that the district has chosen for the program, it is a great distance from most if not all of the children in the program. As a GATE parent myself, it takes at least 20 minutes for me to get to the school-- requiring me to do all transportation myself would require 80 minutes of driving every single school day. Give or take. This comes at great expense to a family, and taking away the bus to GATE will make it impossible for families who 1- can't afford the gas money or a car to transport their gifted students so far away 2- have to have jobs to support their families and can't afford the time to drive 80 extra minutes every day, at the times that are designated, 3- have any other children in the district who don't qualify as GATE and get out at the exact same time which would leave children unnecessarily unattended. Creating a system that uses tax money to serve only the needs of the privileged few who can meet all the criteria to get their kids back and forth to the program is unethical and is an irresponsible use of taxpayers dollars and we need to look long and hard at where we ARE spending the money. THIS IS NOT OKAY. We need to be showing up at the School District meetings, if this kind of decision is typical of what they are up to, we need better representation. Not okay.

thutson

And again the GATE kids get the short end of the stick. They took away the one-day GATE program when my daughter was in elementary school, not even giving us the option of providing our own transportation. What a shame.

Churchillis1

"Equity." Get used to hearing this word in regards to education. This seemingly positive and laudable word is being used more and more often to demand that schools treat every student exactly the same, no matter the student's intelligence or work ethic or ability. Looking at this foolish decision, the first question an intelligent person would ask is "If they are seeking 'equity' why do these students have special classes to begin with?" The answer is simple. These are the best, brightest and hardest working kids. And I, for one, have no problem with putting them in a different class and even scheduling the bus routes around them. This decision reeks of the socialist rot that is devouring our schools and we come one step closer to cutting down the tall trees so the short trees don't feel so bad. Utter nonsense.

GaryJohns

Why would we want to help the gifted and motivated kids...?? We need to throw more money at the bricks.....

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