Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek said he knew that when he traveled down to Homer last week, he would be asked about student transportation.
That topic dominated the hour-long coffee social Dusek hosted Thursday, Dec. 7 at K-Bay Caffee for members of the public to give the district feedback as well as ask questions. Ever since the lower Kenai Peninsula was switched onto a two-tiered busing system — something the rest of the district has been operating on for decades — parents and school staff have been experiencing hiccups in how they get the kids in their charge from point A to point B.
“Several years ago, even before the new bus contract, we had been experiencing … increase in costs of transportation,” Dusek said. “… Ultimately, the whole transportation conversation should have happened five years ago.”
After having to dig into its fund balance to continue supporting transportation, Dusek said conversations began about three years ago about having to make cuts. Under a single-tier system, what the lower peninsula used to operate on, start times for almost all schools are roughly the same. Under the two-tier system, the schools use fewer buses on two routes, with start times separated by an hour to allow bus drivers to complete both routes. This change will save the district an estimated $664,000 a year.
The longer bus times under the new system have inspired many parents to transport their young children themselves, several people at the coffee gathering noted. This has caused major issues in the West Homer Elementary parking lot especially, which is not big enough to handle the influx of cars. Wait times to pick up children have extended, and several parents commented that children who walk to and from West Homer are not safe with all the extra traffic.
Beyond confusion and frustration over the different busing schedules, a large problem parents have run into is what to do with kids after school. Several people present at the gathering offered that there is no shortage of organizations and opportunities for students in the Homer area — the problem is physically getting them from the schools to the activities.
Several parents commented that Apple Bus will not drop students off at a different school, which previously allowed students at a school with no after-school activity to head to a school that did have a program. They also noted Apple Bus will not drop students off at community businesses or organizations that are not a recognized stop, even if that’s where a student’s family is or where an activity is.
Dusek said school-to-school drop offs may be able to be worked on, but that the district has liability issues when it comes to dropping students off in places without district supervision.
Mike Illg, a Homer representative on the School Board, said that members of the K-Bay Community Youth and Activities Coalition (which was created in response to the two-tier bus system leaving some students with more time after school) has looked into the possibility of securing a bus specifically for ferrying students from schools to activities where their parents can pick them up after work.
“We’ve gotten a quote from Apple Bus; it would take about $38,000 a year to provide that service,” he said. “But it would depend on routes. … But the big question is, how do we fund it?”
The coalition is currently working on some grants. Illg cautioned that “nothing good happens overnight,” and reminded those present at the gathering that other municipalities on the peninsula receive a lot of support for their nonprofits and after school programs like Boys and Girls Club, which Homer no longer has.
Dusek said he plans to come back down to Homer in January, along with representatives of Apple Bus, to host an informational community meeting about the transition, what Apple can and cannot do, and what possible solutions might be. He also hopes to host another coffee gathering in the spring semester, he said.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.