Angry parents expressed their disapproval Wednesday night for a Margaretta Schools plan to put students from kindergarten through 12th grade on the same buses.
Tension was high as the school board voted 4-0 in favor of the plan, saying it will save more than $110,000 a year, not including wear and tear on buses.
Board members said it was the best alternative considering the district's financial situation, but many parents were concerned about the safety of their young children.
Under the plan, buses will pick up all the children and take them to the district's bus garage to transfer them to shuttle buses for the trip to their respective schools. After school the shuttle buses will pick students up and take them to the bus garage to be transferred to their respective bus routes.
"I'll have a third-grader and a kindergartner next year," said Tom Johnson, who attended the meeting with his wife, Jennifer. "I just want to make sure they're safe."
Superintendent Ed Kurt said the district will administer a zero-tolerance policy on the buses.
"You can say zero tolerance, but that doesn't stop it from happening. ... Three months down the road, they're going to forget," Tom Johnson said.
"If they do, they won't be riding," Kurt rebutted.
Board member Mike Myers explained the board has talked to other one-bus-line school district administrators who said discipline problems on their buses decreased after they implemented the plan.
One man suggested putting cameras in all the buses to monitor students and act as a deterrent. Kurt said the board would take that into consideration.
Kurt said the new plan would place high school kids at the back of the bus and elementary school kids at the front, but several parents said they were concerned about older students' language.
"I don't want my kids coming home telling me they learned about the facts of life on a school bus," Jennifer Johnson said.
Kurt said he believes the plan will have problems at first, but the district will work to improve the process.
"The state of Ohio has frozen our income. Expenses are rising every year ....The only way we'll fix this problem is if the voters in this township fix this problem," Myers said.
In August, the school board will mail letters to parents regarding bus number and pick up/drop off times, as well as informing them of behavior and discipline expectations.
Kurt said he will also address students about behavior on the buses at the beginning of the school year.
One other positive aspect of the new plan, according to Kurt, is all schools will start and finish at the same time, allowing teachers and students to better coordinate activities and meetings.
However, the time spent on buses for many students will increase.
The new plan will also cut wage hours for some Margaretta bus drivers.
Board member Judy Kuns didn't vote on the plan because she was on vacation.