Claysburg considers busing solution

CLAYSBURG – Claysburg-Kimmel administrators hope to negotiate a student ride-sharing system after district parents complained about long, dangerous walks brought on by transportation budget cuts, a board member said Friday.

Administrators are in talks with parents whose children face long walks to their bus stops, board member Denny Cowher said. During the past two months, parents living along two rural routes have complained of milelong hikes on winding back roads, with approaching winter weather likely to make the twice-daily trips more dangerous.

In past years, children living in hollows – the winding valleys cut into the mountains of Greenfield and Kimmel townships – could hop onto a short bus or van outside their homes, said Holly Vaughan, whose 15- and 12-year-old children attend Claysburg-Kimmel. But cost-saving measures in this year’s transportation budget eliminated some of the side trips, requiring students to meet at central stops along major roads.

“We did it to save money,” Cowher said. “Everything’s expensive.”

The change has left 11 students, ages 7 to 17, to walk at least a mile down Butler Hollow Road before and after each school day, Vaughan said.

“There’s no sidewalks, there’s 4-foot ditches and no winter covering,” she said. “It’s a nasty, nasty road. The township rarely even plows it.”

When winter arrives, there will be even less incentive to plow as school buses now avoid the road, Vaughan said.

Even the street sign was missing at the school year’s start, she said – possibly targeted by sign thieves who removed markers across the area.

“It’s not the distance itself – it’s the road, it’s the safety, the hill,” Vaughan said.

Students on Showalter Road face a similar walk with a “blind curve,” parents said at an August school board meeting.

At the time, parents requested a hazardous walking route study, a district-commissioned PennDOT investigation that determines whether the route meets state standards.

As of this week, Claysburg-Kimmel administrators haven’t requested such a study, PennDOT District 9 Traffic Engineer John Ambrosini said.

“At this point we haven’t received anything from the school district,” he said.

The study requires personal observation of the route, with PennDOT engineers measuring traffic and marking down road features at the beginning and end of a typical school day. The state legal code sets detailed rules and measurements for a “hazardous” determination.

State regulations consider only road and traffic conditions; it’s up to the district to weigh other elements, like snow removal, bad neighborhoods and secluded woods, according to government fact sheets.

The six-county PennDOT district receives two to 10 study requests in an average fall, Ambrosini said, with most arriving in September. At least half end with a determination that the route is dangerous, he estimated.

“Most of the time, when a school district requests them, we’re finding hazardous elements more often than not,” he said.

The engineers likely haven’t received a study request because administrators hope to solve the problem without one, Cowher said Friday. Rather than declaring the road hazardous and changing their bus routes, district officials hope to negotiate a carpool to the stops, he said.

If a parent on a side road can drive nearby students to a bus stop, Cowher said, the district could compensate him or her for gas.

“We’re trying to go down that avenue first,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

According to a state Department of Education fact sheet, there’s no legal requirement for a district to bus its students. If a district provides buses, however, students can’t be asked to walk more than 1 miles to a stop, not including private roads and driveways.

Cowher said he’s confident that the board can develop a plan before their next meeting. He’d rather not see the route cuts – proposed by the district bus contractor and set to save $50,000 this year – reversed so quickly, he said.

Vaughan said she plans to press her case until administrators reach a solution.

“I’m not going away very easily,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.