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Unidos parents look for transportation options

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

With transportation to school-of-choice programs in Clayton County Public Schools facing the budgetary chopping block, parents on the Unidos Dual Language Charter School's School Council spent Monday afternoon looking for options for getting students to and from the school.

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley's budget reduction plan, which was approved last week by the Clayton County Board of Education, includes a proposal to end bus-stop pickup for students at charter schools, magnet schools, the Open Campus High School and the county's alternative school.

The pupils' parents would instead be responsible for getting their children to, and from, a shuttle bus pick-up and drop-off site at Tara Stadium, in Jonesboro, every day. The transportation cuts are expected to save $1.8 million per year, according to a presentation of Heatley's plan.

For some parents on Unidos' School Council, the shuttle-bus site is not an acceptable solution to the transportation issue.

"If you've got someone who lives in Lovejoy, and you want them to drive all the way up to Jonesboro to drop their child off, they might as well drive the child to school themselves," said School Council President Ashley Harris, of Riverdale. "We really do need to look at other options."

Unidos is an elementary school-level charter school in Forest Park, which teaches students to be fluent in both English and Spanish. There are 420 students enrolled at the school, which is scheduled to add a fifth-grade in the fall, according to School Founder and Dual Language Coordinator Dell Perry Giles.

If the transportation change is adopted as part of the school system's fiscal year 2011 budget, the school's enrollment could drop dramatically, according to Principal Nancy Said. Giles and Said told the council a large number of Unidos families who responded to a recent transportation survey, conducted by the school, said they would likely not return to the school next year without a school bus to take their children to school.

"Fifty percent felt like they would not return next year," Said said.

Giles told council members that 86 percent of the families of the school's 420 students responded to the survey.

The school system is facing an anticipated deficit of $119 million by June 2012 if budget cuts are not made, Heatley has repeatedly told the school board. The proposed budget has not yet been presented to the school board, but it must be in place by June 30.

At the school board meeting on April 13, School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson and School Board Member Mary Baker asked parents to come up with options for board members to consider when weighing ways to cut expenses, without hurting the education of students.

"We need to come up with some general options to give them, and then if they want us to give them further details, we can work that out," Said told the school council.

The council came up with four options, which will be submitted to all Unidos parents for input before being sent to the school board. Those options include:

* Parents driving their children to the "home school" whose attendance zone they live in, so a shuttle bus can pick the youths up and take them to Unidos.

* Having the students ride the school bus to the "home school" whose attendance zone they live in, to catch a shuttle bus to Unidos. The school would have a later starting time and ending time than other elementary schools in the county, under this option.

* Consolidating bus routes from 11 to a number that would result in all school buses taking students to Unidos being full. Giles said there are some bus routes for the school that only 17 or 18 students live on, while others have more than 50 students.

* Combining bus routes with the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School, which is facing the same transportation issue.

Said also showed the council members a map of the county, with red dots drawn in to show where Unidos families live. Although there was not a dot for every family with a child at the school, there were still 249 dots on the map.

The largest concentration of dots was shown to be in the northeast part of the county, in and around the cities of Forest Park and Lake City, and in the Rex and Ellenwood communities. There were 130 dots marked in that area.

The next-largest concentration of dots -- 38 dots -- was found to be in the Riverdale and College Park areas, including everything west of Tara Boulevard and Interstate 75, but north of Pointe South Parkway.

There were 29 dots in the Jonesboro and Morrow areas, which included the land boarded by I-75 in the north, Noah's Ark Road in the south, Tara Boulevard in the west, and the Henry County line in the east.

Between Pointe South Parkway and Mundy's Mill Road, west of Tara Boulevard, there were 20 dots, and another 21 dots between Mundy's Mill Road and McDonough Road. There were no dots shown between Noah's Ark Road and McDonough Road, on the east side of Tara Boulevard.

There were 11 dots shown to be located south of McDonough Road, in the Lovejoy area and in the county's panhandle.