Students in the Brainerd School District who suffer from long bus rides may find relief when the school bus rolls around to pick them up this fall.
Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth told school board members Monday that the district and Reichert Bus Service are working together to come up with ways to shorten bus rides, particularly for students who live in rural areas within the district.
With more housing developments being constructed in rural areas, there has been an increase in longer bus rides for students who live there, said Walseth. Yet there aren't so many students living in these outlying areas to justify adding more buses, he said.
There were some rural students who may have ridden the bus for about 90 minutes each morning and night, said Walseth. He said the district's goal is to reroute buses, change bus transfer areas and reduce the longest routes by about 15 minutes this fall.
Kala Henkensiefken, district transportation coordinator, said the district eliminated a Nisswa elementary bus route, which wasn't necessary anymore because Nisswa fifth-graders will be bused to Forestview Middle School this fall, and the route was added to the southern end of the district where bus rides are longest.
Henkensiefken said shuttle sites are now more centrally located, which will allow all students in the district to experience shorter bus routes. Instead of requiring bus drivers to have their buses in the shuttle areas by about 7:35-7:40 a.m. each "We're still going to have routes that will not see significant changes," said Henkensiefken. "Everyone should have a reduction in time spent on the bus but some more than others."
Henkensiefken said Brainerd High School is the most centrally located school building in the district so two of the four shuttle sites will be there. The shuttle sites include the BHS South Campus parking lot, BHS south doors, a site below the high rise on East River Road and an expanded shuttle area at Reichert Bus Service.
Walseth said the opening of Forestview Middle School for the 2,100 students in grades 5-8 this fall and the closure of Washington Middle School and Franklin Junior High School will allow for smooth transfers, along with the transformation of the former Mississippi Horizons into BHS South Campus.
Forestview students will experience about a 20-minute reduction in their school day, which will allow extra time to load and unload school buses. The school day will run from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., similar to the elementary school schedules. Students won't experience a reduction in classroom time, said Assistant Superintendent Gary Phillips. Since classrooms for each grade level are close to one another, students no longer need much time to get to their classrooms, so this time was reduced.
Security will be on hand at the BHS South Campus parking lot after school and parents and other visitors won't be allowed to drive into this parking lot during afterschool bus transfers. Instead, Phillips said parents of ninth-graders at BHS South Campus will need to pick up their students on the west side below the hill.
Board member Bob Nystrom asked Walseth what types of efforts are being made to alleviate traffic flow problems at Forestview. When the new middle school opened in January for students from Washington and Mississippi Horizons, many parents drove their students to the school, causing major traffic congestion the first few days.
When school starts Sept. 6, there will be fifth- and sixth-graders, as well as former Franklin students, who have never attended school at the Baxter middle school, which could cause even bigger traffic flow problems.
Walseth said the district is going to do the best it can to encourage parents during the school open houses to have their students ride the school buses out to Forestview, rather than drop them off. It may not solve all the traffic flow issues at Forestview, but it may help, said Walseth.
"Our focus is bus riding, bus riding, bus riding," said Walseth.
Phillips said it comes down to making Forestview parents, particularly those with fifth- and sixth-grade students, feel they can entrust their children to the district at the larger middle school.
Students riding the bus will need to have a bus card with them in order to get on the bus. Parents should receive this card with their child's busing information no later than Aug. 22 in the mail. If your child is not registered to ride the bus, call the district transportation office at 822-6920.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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