I have stated numerous times that I believe protecting our children in their commute to and from school is a multi-faceted problem that will require multiple solutions. And while much can be achieved from a variety of resources, the responsibility of implementing the most effective and beneficial solutions (full reinstatement of transportation and the formalization of a crossing guard program) essentially lies with our local officials.
I applaud the city and the schools for their expressed commitment to work together on this most important issue. However, if we are to move forward, it is time that each commit to more specific, tangible goals. Taking this important step will circumvent blurring the lines of accountability which has, in the past, led to public confusion and ineffective solutions.
Because school bus transportation is managed by the school system, they possess sole authority in the decision of who can and cannot use this service. Though they have made some progress in increasing the allowable ridership, they have yet to commit to equal opportunity for 100 percent of our children. For me, this is unacceptable.
Others aren’t completely convinced that transportation for all is the best solution. One argument suggests that the schools deprive children of much-needed exercise by providing busing in the first place. I would think our schools already meet their physical fitness obligations to our students with the wide variety of sports programs they offer. Even if they do not, I would still prefer that safety take priority over unsupervised cardio and weight training (while carrying 20 to 30 pound backpacks).
There are also those who believe that our children’s safety (while en route) is not the schools responsibility. Then I have to ask: Why did our schools provide door-to-door bus service for all those years? If it was not out of consideration for safety and since it is not mandated, then why provide bus service to anyone?
Funding limitations are, according to some, one of the primary obstacles to reinstating full bus service. It should be noted that the savings from last year’s transportation cuts amounted to .7 percent — that is, less than 1 percent — of the total $50 million budget. And, as others have pointed out, if we are all paying the same taxes, is it really asking too much that all of our children (especially those who live in the poorest of our neighborhoods) be given the same opportunities for safe travel?
Many of those who view funding as an obstacle feel the need to press City Council to provide more funds to the schools. Were it not for the fact that the schools neglected to include reinstatement in their proposed budget (and subsequent demand for increased funding), I might agree. I also feel that if the city is to assume the burden of crossing guards as well as future, long-term solutions (traffic calming, pedestrian bridges, etc.), then we can’t expect them to also foot the bill for busing without sacrificing other necessary services.
Though I contend that the city is responsible for providing crossing guards (be they hired, volunteers, or a combination of each), I have found there to be no law designating them as such. However, because they do manage the police department and other services related to pedestrian safety, they are the most logical candidates for the job. Among other efforts, they have indicated that they are implementing a full-scale citizen volunteer program. But, this stops short of fully committing to providing immediate crossing guards. This, to me, is also unacceptable. I have heard few, if any, arguments against pressing the city for a firm commitment on the matter.
State and federal mandates, fully funded or not, provide the impetus for our local government to achieve the seemingly impossible. Citizen mandates can do the same, but only if we insist on specific courses of action from specific entities. I encourage all Oak Ridgers, regardless of your parental status, to insist that they do so via published letters, phone calls, and, most importantly, at public meetings. It is time for the city and the schools to commit publicly and unequivocally to their individual responsibilities.