School Board approves expanded bus service

By Dave Fidlin


Bus service within the Whitewater Unified School District could be extended this fall, following action last week by the School Board.

Nelson Bus Service, the private firm that provides transportation to students throughout Whitewater Unified’s boundaries, requested the district consider changing its existing policy pertaining to student pick-ups.

District Administrator Eric Runez said Whitewater has been following state guidelines for bus transportation.

Students living two or more miles from their school are automatically privy to bus service. Also, students living in areas deemed “unusually hazardous” below the two-mile threshold are offered bus service.

By following only the state guidelines, most students living less than two miles from their school have been forced to use other modes of transportation – including bike riding, walking and parental driving.

Also, students residing outside WUSD’s boundaries but attending area schools through the open enrollment program have not been able to use bus transportation.

But the board’s motion last week has paved the way to more flexibility for would-be bus riders. While there are no guarantees, currently ineligible students living in areas outside the state guidelines have the potential to enter into individual, fee-based contracts with Nelson.

With board approval granted, Runez said the district will not be directly involved in deciding which students outside the guidelines can ride the buses. As a general policy, Nelson will be offering seats on a space available basis.

“The district had stepped in because this was an issue directly related to our own bus routes,” Runez said.

Like all districts across the state, WUSD has been reviewing a document known as the hazard transportation plan. It outlines areas within the district’s boundaries that give all students the opportunity to take the bus, regardless of proximity to a school.

The district has been reviewing its hazard transportation plan in recent months, and a discussion about private contracts was an outgrowth of the examination. Runez said the plan was last scrutinized in 2005.

“We’ve had families expressing interest (in private contracts) in the past, and we believed this was well worth looking into further,” Runez said. “There are certainly some parents who would like to access this kind of service for their children.”

Since the private contracts will be fee-based at a dollar figure determined by the bus company, Runez said the board’s recent action will be cost neutral to the district.

“From the district’s standpoint, this is an added benefit for families,” Runez said. “It doesn’t come at any additional cost to the district.”

A committee comprised of Runez, Business Manager Nathan Jaeger and representatives from Nelson Bus Company reviewed terms of the individual contracts before documents were presented to the board for ultimate action.

The board deliberated extensively on the provisions at last week’s meeting. But when debate was finished, officials voted unanimously in favor of moving forward with the change.

Nelson will make the private contracts available to families beginning with the upcoming school year.


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