By Nancy Marsic | The Topanga Messenger
ILLUSTRATION BY DAN MAZUR
27 August - The first local casualty of the deep budget cuts hitting the state is the school bus that transports students from Topanga Canyon to both Palisades Charter High and Paul Revere Charter Middle Schools. At press time, Topanga Elementary principal, Liam Joyce, who has been speaking with School Superintendent Ramon Cortines' Chief of Staff, as well as the head of LAUSD Transportation, learned that service to Paul Revere was reinstated.
Earlier this month, stunned parents received a letter from the Los Angeles Unified School District, signed by School Superintendent Ramon Cortines, stating that "district paid transportation will no longer be provided for a majority of students participating in the OTS (Other Transported Students) program that transports students from their resident neighborhood to resident school." The letter went on to state that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is seeking funding reductions in public school transportation that amounts to $62 million in cuts to LAUSD.
As concerned parents gathered at Topanga Elementary School on the morning of Saturday, August 8, to discuss what could be done and what alternative methods of transportation were available to them, many of them voiced feelings ranging from disbelief to anger that their tax dollars don't seem to cover what many consider to be a basic need for students who truly don't live close to almost any schools or public transportation.
Bill Barnett, parent of 14-year-old Jack, about to attend Pali High, described it as "a cold shot of reality." Kerry Hill, another parent, was "disappointed and angry that mismanagement at the state level affected kids and families on a personal level."
Nikki Patterson, another parent whose 14-year-old son is set to attend Pali High is "disappointed that this will affect our work schedules and also schedules with younger children in our family," saying that she believed this is supposed to be part of taxpayer dollars.
PHOTO BY JOHN MARSIC
At an informal meeting at Topanga Elementary, concerned parents met on Saturday, August 8, to discuss strategies for blocking cancellation of LAUSD bus service from Topanga to Palisades High and Paul Revere Middle Schools.
As the parents exchanged phone numbers and e-mails in anticipation of arranging alternate methods of transportation, the impact of the cancellation started to sink in. The bus service, which was initiated several decades ago, made stops throughout the Canyon picking up students in the morning and bringing them home in the afternoon.
Cynthia Scott, another concerned parent, as well as a Field Deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, advised all the parents to contact Steve Zimmer, the LAUSD District 3 Board member, and copy Senator Fran Pavley, Assembly member Julia Brownley, and Supervisor Yaroslavsky as well, who she says "is very concerned." "This will act as a disincentive to parents who send their kids to LAUSD," she added.
In the letter to Mr. Zimmer dated August 14, Scott noted that for more than five decades Topanga Elementary School has been one of the five feeder elementary schools to Paul Revere and Pali High School, with more than 500 students enrolled in the three schools.
On Tuesday, August 18, 20 parents, Scott among them, met with the Pali High Board of Directors and their Executive Director, Amy Dresser-Held, where Scott presented her letter to Zimmer. She also submitted maps of the area highlighting the distance-about 20 miles one way-from Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Victory with two more stops at View Ridge and Topanga Elementary before completing its route to Pali.
In the letter, she noted that Topanga students and families have been an "active and contributing asset to the campus, participating in scholastic, drama and sports programs with their time, talent and resources." She went on to say that this cancellation would be "an untenable burden for parents who are already struggling in this economic downturn, with an additional hardship on working parents who will have to adjust their schedules to accommodate this new demand." Many families in Topanga have multiple siblings that attend each school, all with a start time of 7:50 a.m. Some students will no longer have the option of attending Pali High.
Scott's letter went on to say that other communities were threatened with the same dilemma back in 1990 due to similar budget issues and parents, along with their LAUSD Board Member, fiercely advocated to save the buses. She also pointed out that Topanga Canyon is a geographically isolated rural community with only one major artery, Topanga Canyon Boulevard, that spans twelve miles from the Top of Topanga Canyon to Pacific Coast Highway. Coupled with the fact that it is also a mountainous, curvy two-lane road with no sidewalks or streetlights, further strengthened her point that public transportation is not an option.
In the tense few weeks before school begins, parents have no options other than exploring voluntary carpools or contracting with a private bus company. Contracting a private bus company could turn out to be a costly option for parents, according to Jit Mukherjee, another parent, who received preliminary estimates of $248 per day, or $45,000 a year. The cost of the bus to Pali is now said to be $80,000. Such a service would have to be shared by the parents of the students and Scott has started a petition asking the Pali Board of Directors to supplement the costs.
The question came up as to why kids outside of the Pali Charter are given transportation permits to be bused in, while Topanga property owners' kids in the home catchment area are cut. Scott wanted to be clear that this argument is moot as the funding for Student Integration Programs is a federal program and thus protected, while our bus was funded by LAUSD's general fund and, therefore, in jeopardy because of State cuts.
"Topanga was the only OTS program that was cut from our Charter," she told the Messenger. "It feels like disenfranchisement. Our argument in years past was that we have a long walking distance on a hazardous route. All it would take is one serious accident...."
Meanwhile, as parent Karen Bovee put it, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," implying that Topanga parents must take it upon themselves to contact their local representatives and school board members to get school bus service reinstated. Topanga parents are a very cohesive and committed part of the community, with the perseverance and strength to overcome difficult situations to get positive results.
"Our conversion charter is definitely the sticking point," observes Scott.
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