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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.

But the upgrade from a Suburban to a school bus means the route costs double what it used to, said Ira Harris, superintendent of the Boise City School District.

For starters, the bus is much less fuel-efficient, Harris said.

Throw in higher costs for insurance and the driver, and the route costs $5,000 more per year than it did before consolidation, he said.

Adding a bus route is more costly for school districts. In Washita County, population 11,000, about 50 students started attending Cordell Public Schools after Washita Heights School District closed in May 2010.

The Cordell District had to add a route to accommodate the new students, which costs about $11,000 in fuel alone, Cordell Public Schools Superintendent Brad Overton said.

The district also had to add a bus driver to its payroll at a cost of $5,500, he said. The driver keeps the bus at home at night, which saves money for the district, and added per-pupil funding offsets some costs, he said.

In addition, the districts are close enough that some parents and students are willing to drive to school.

In rural areas, long drives are the norm. As populations shrink, Panhandle communities become less and less like their downstate counterparts, where there are schools every several miles, said Sherri Hitchings, secretary to the superintendent of Keyes Public Schools.

“We feel like we're just withering away,” she said.

Parents and teachers make adjustments. Jaelin Cox's parents, for instance, make sure their daughter is rested for school after the 50-mile drive back from church on Wednesday nights.

“We just take her PJs and she sleeps on the way home,” Jennifer Cox said.

Christy Cox said her early mornings used to faze her, but just as with any other inconvenience of rural living, she got used to it.

“By the second semester, I had kind of settled into it,” she said. “If you live out here, that's what you have to do.”


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