The Webster Parish School Board will begin investigating changing the parish’s attendance zones to see what can be done to alleviate travel distance for some students.
District 5 Board Member Ronnie Rhymes spoke to the board Monday about looking into the issue, saying there are children who live within a few miles of Shongaloo or Sarepta but must attend Minden schools.
“Our school zones shrunk drastically around the little towns like Sarepta and Shongaloo,” he said. “For instance, Cotton Valley’s zone used to go all the way down to a quarter of a mile north of Whispering Pines Church on 371. Now the school zone ends at the XTO Road; that’s nine miles that we used to have those kids that would go to Cotton Valley.”
He says children who lived in the Evergreen Community went to Shongaloo but now they must attend Minden schools. One parent called him, he says, who lives within five miles of Shongaloo, but because their child must attend school in Minden, that child is on the bus a total of one hour and 20 minutes per day.
“I would like to see it go back to the old zones,” he said. “If we go back to the old zones – Cotton Valley and Shongaloo, I admit, have small numbers – but that would increase the numbers at these two schools very little. It would also take the pressure off of schools like Harper, Jones and Richardson. Those kids that used to go to Shongaloo and Cotton Valley would go back.”
Rhymes says some kids who live on Highway 80 used to attend Doyline schools but now attend Minden schools.
In a telephone interview, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls says this will be a huge undertaking and the reality is they must see if it’s even feasible.
“We’re going to have to post where every kid lives on a map, what grade they’re in, and then we can send that to the board and they can see where all these kids live and decide if they want to move that line to make the bus routes shorter,” he said.
He says the number of students affected is unknown at this time, but estimates it would be in the hundreds if the board decides to move the line. What also comes into play is the amount the school board spends each school year on fuel. As of press time, the exact amount of what the board spent last year was unavailable, but Rawls estimated about $1 million or more, running roughly 125 busses twice per day every school day.
One factor they must assess is whether moving the line would mean using more busses.
“Let’s say you move the line north eight miles (on Highway 371),” he said. “Now all those kids will have to go back to school up there. The kids still have to be bussed. You won’t know if you have any savings until you see where each kid lives, how much longer he or she has to ride the bus and then you have capacity.”
If a bus has the capacity for 60 students and it is already full from the current attendance zone, then the school board would have to either add another bus to the same route or put the children on a bigger bus, such as one with a capacity for 75 – all depending on the number of students affected by the change in the zone.
“Those busses are set up for routes by capacity,” he said. “We are in the infancy of this, so until we have a meeting, look at this and cost it out, it’s just going to take time. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
The matter will go before the transportation committee, but Rawls gave no timeline as to when results would be in.