Longer bus routes take toll on children, budgets in rural school districts

In rural areas of Oklahoma, school district consolidation can mean long, tiring bus rides for schoolchildren and thousands of dollars in fuel and insurance costs for districts.
BY CELIA AMPEL campel@opubco.com Modified: July 27, 2012 at 8:36 pm •  Published: July 29, 2012
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photo - Wewoka Public Schools is one of 10 school districts in Seminole County, which is about 60 miles east of Oklahoma City. The district recently passed a bond issue to renovate the elementary school and reorganize the classroom layout. This also resulted in some extra classroom spaces, which Superintendent Sam McElvany said could be made available if a nearby school needed to consolidate or annex to Wewoka. Photo by Li Lin, The Oklahoman.
Wewoka Public Schools is one of 10 school districts in Seminole County, which is about 60 miles east of Oklahoma City. The district recently passed a bond issue to renovate the elementary school and reorganize the classroom layout. This also resulted in some extra classroom spaces, which Superintendent Sam McElvany said could be made available if a nearby school needed to consolidate or annex to Wewoka. Photo by Li Lin, The Oklahoman.

Jaelin Cox, 6, attended prekindergarten three miles from her home in rural Cimarron County. She would get on the bus at 8 a.m. and be home a little after 3 p.m.

Then Plainview Elementary School District closed in June 2011, sending about two dozen students to surrounding districts.

Now Jaelin takes the bus about 25 miles to Boise City for school, getting home at 4:30 p.m. Bedtime is 7 p.m. so that she can catch the bus at 6:45 the next morning.

“That's two and a half hours that I can see her and be a part of her life,” her mother, Jennifer Cox, said. “I don't like it.”

In the Panhandle and other rural areas of Oklahoma, school district consolidation can mean longer bus routes — leading to long, tiring days for schoolchildren and thousands of dollars in added fuel and insurance costs for districts.

Jaelin's grandmother, Christy Cox, drives the school bus from the old Plainview district to Boise City. The new route is 55 miles each way.

“It is really, really hard on our kids,” she said. “By the end of the week, they're dead tired.”

Christy Cox worked for the Plainview district for 11 years, driving about five children to school in a red Chevrolet Suburban.

Now she drives about 15 students, including high schoolers, in a yellow school bus. The long drive is taxing on the children and on her, she said. She wakes up an hour earlier than she did last year — 4:30 a.m. — and gets home at 5:30 in the evening.

She said that when Plainview closed, “it broke everybody's heart.”

She sees some benefits, though. For example, she said the Boise City School District can offer the students more activities.

Plus, the students are pretty excited that they upgraded to a school bus.

“Why? I don't know, but they are,” Christy Cox said.

Higher costs

The Boise City District has been transporting students to and from the old Plainview District for years, ever since the high school there closed.



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