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CPS Cutting 270 Bus Stops, Forcing Some Kids to Walk 1.5 Miles To Get Ride

By Stephanie Lulay | July 24, 2015 7:29am
 In a cost-cutting measure, Chicago Public Schools is planning to cut the number of student bus pickups by more than half, parents were told at a Near West Side meeting this week.
In a cost-cutting measure, Chicago Public Schools is planning to cut the number of student bus pickups by more than half, parents were told at a Near West Side meeting this week.
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DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

NEAR WEST SIDE — In an effort to cut costs, Chicago Public Schools plans to cut the number of bus stops for students by well more than half for the 2015-16 school year, a top school official told parents Thursday.

In the past, CPS buses have picked up magnet and selective-enrollment students at 450 stops — stops located at their neighborhood schools — across the city. But this fall, CPS plans to consolidate the number of bus stops to 180, Martin Ellinger, CPS manager of student transportation routing, told about a dozen parents and local school council members Thursday at Andrew Jackson Language Academy.

Ellinger said CPS is working to ensure the security of students and to make sure no children have to cross gang lines or other unsafe areas.

"It's been a long process," Ellinger said.

In a statement released July 1, CPS officials said it would consolidate bus stops that serve magnet students, saving $2.3 million. Instead of reporting to their local attendance school for pickup, magnet students would instead be picked up at a consolidated stop "within 2 miles of students' homes," the statement read.

Stephanie Lulay says parents don't know what schools are affected:

Under the new plan, Ellinger said the average student's stop will be 0.6 miles from his home, and the district wants to ensure no student has to travel farther than 1.5 miles to and from a new stop. 

Two-thirds of magnet and selective-enrollment students served by buses will have a new stop next school year, Ellinger estimated.

"While some students are going to have to go a little bit further, most won't have to go that much further," he said.

CPS plans to continue to pick up special education students at their homes, Ellinger confirmed.

In a related move, CPS officials confirmed last week that the bell schedules at 60 CPS high schools and 17 elementary schools are expected to change for the 2015-2016 school year — with some schools shifting schedules by as much as 45 minutes to an hour.

At the affected high schools, start time will shift to 9 a.m., and affected elementary schools, for the most part, will shift to an earlier start time of 7:30 or 7:45 a.m.

Shifting the start time at the 77 schools will save CPS $9.2 million by reducing the number of bus shifts to two, allowing the district to cut 160 buses and 75 aides, according to CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner.

Ellinger said the new bell schedule and consolidated bus stop plan will put CPS in line with the transportation budgets at urban school systems in other large cities.

"We are one of the only cities that has bells for schools that receive transportation between 8 and 8:30 [a.m.]," he said. "Those are kind of the worst bell times possible because it makes it virtually impossible to reuse those buses for other schools."

Are the new bus stops safe?

Bittner, the CPS spokeswoman, said, "As always, student safety is our top priority, and we are currently working with principals to finalize transportation stops and routes. We will provide further information when these are final, and will continue to work with schools to make sure students can arrive to and depart from school safely.”

Ellinger said "We are working with safety and security to make sure we're not making kids cross gang lines, things like that, with these new stops."

Jackson LSC members asked whether there would be more crossing guards since students will be walking farther.

Ellinger said CPS did not plan to add more crossing guards.

How much is CPS saving?

Andrew Jackson, a lottery admissions school on the Near West Side, previously used  nine to 10 buses. Changing the start time at the school will save CPS "around $250,000," Ellinger said.

The school could likely eliminate one bus, he said, but in most cases, "even if we can't [get rid of a bus], we're going to be able to shorten the length of those runs because we have fewer stops to go to."

About 25 stops will be cut from the school's collective bus routes, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in stops.

Overall, CPS said it will save $2.3 million by consolidating bus stops.

Plans to change school bell schedules have been "on the table" for years, Ellinger said.

"To be honest, cutting magnet school bussing completely has been on the table for years," he said. "That's something we don't want to do because we know the value of these programs."

Asked why the district waited until the middle of the summer to tell schools and parents about the changes that had been under consideration for so long, Ellinger blamed union negotiations and budget delays.

"If you had gotten your budget earlier, all these plans would have come together more quickly," he said.

Which schools are affected?

The change will affect buses that pick up and drop off students at magnet schools, so it will affect selective-enrollment and magnet schools. However, CPS did not release a full list of schools affected  — just as CPS has refused to release the full list of 77 schools affected by new start times to the media, saying that principals instead would be spreading the news to parents at the affected schools.

CPS did not comment on how parents across the district would be notified of the changes. At the Andrew Jackson meeting Thursday, Ellinger said that parents should expect to receive a postcard with route information in the next few weeks.

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