Ann Helms, Charlotte Observer
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is saving about $3 million by booting 2,900 kids off the bus and making many others walk a bit further, officials said Wednesday.
This year's changes mean CMS will have about 100 fewer buses on the road than last year. The fleet of 1,155 will drive about 11,000 fewer miles each day, transportation director Carol Stamper said.
CMS expects to have about 134,400 students this year, with 111,000 of them assigned to buses.
Some of the changes have been in the works for two years. CMS worked with UNC Charlotte to create “common stops” in almost 200 neighborhoods, rather than having buses snake down residential streets and stop in front of several homes.
Most kids still won't be hiking far. Stamper said the maximum house-to-stop trek is 0.2 of a mile for elementary students and 0.4 for middle and high school. The average is 0.12 miles, up from 0.07 last year, she said.
“That is less than halfway around one of our high school tracks,” Superintendent Peter Gorman noted.
Stamper predicted the common stops will be popular with families who will be clearer about where the neighborhood stop is, and with kids who can wait in larger groups. She acknowledged that some residents may complain about groups of kids gathering near their homes.
CMS piloted a common stop for about 200 students at the Providence Pointe clubhouse in southern Mecklenburg County in 2007. Some families loved it, while others complained about inconvenience and worried about the hazards of bringing so many kids and buses into one small area.
This year's budget crunch prodded CMS to go further with cost-cutting. The district audited its bus rosters and found 2,500 students who had been promised bus rides to schools outside their neighborhood zone even though they didn't qualify under CMS rules. The district revoked the offer, giving those families the choice of providing their own rides or sending kids back to their neighborhood school.
In two other last-minute cost-cutting moves, CMS withdrew its busing offer to about 400 kids who were “grandfathered” into a school assignment that no longer qualifies for transportation, and shuffled opening times for Northwest School of the Arts and J.T. Williams Middle School.
Northwest, a combined middle-high magnet that pulls students from across the county, will see its opening bell move from 7:15 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Because Northwest's bus runs are so long, Stamper said moving them to later in the day lets CMS use buses that have completed other trips, pulling at least 20 buses out of the mix.
Some Northwest parents and students have cheered the chance to sleep later, but others are worried that the change will make rehearsals and other extracurricular events more difficult.
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