Note: This story was updated at 1:08 p.m.
The 1.5-mile parent responsibility zone approved by Oak Ridge school officials in June will end September 15. School bus service then will be the same as it was during the 2013-2014 school year.
There will still be a .15-mile PRZ for elementary school students and a .25-mile zone for middle and high school students, which is the same as last year. In that zone, parents are responsible for getting their children to and from school; bus service is not provided.
In a press release Monday, Oak Ridge Schools said parents and family members should check the appropriate school website for new bus route information. Times are approximate.
Students should be prepared to board the bus 10 minutes before the scheduled time, the press release said. All routes are dependent upon regular ridership and may be altered or suspended at any time.
“As a reminder, please make sure your child is registered for bus service at their school prior to September 15,” the press release said.
There is a special note for Oak Ridge High School students: Those students will ride to school in the mornings with middle school students. Please check the middle school routes for morning bus information, the press release said. In the afternoons, high school students will ride ORHS buses.
The parent responsibility zone, or PRZ, was expanded to 1.5 miles in June as part of a move to reduce a $1.25 million budget deficit. But parents of elementary and middle school students, in particular, objected to having students as young as five years old cross busy four-lane roadways like Oak Ridge Turnpike or Illinois Avenue to get to school, or walk past the homes of registered sex offenders or down roads with no sidewalks.
After hearing impassioned pleas from parents and grandparents this summer, and after a series of protests, the Oak Ridge school board in August temporarily restored bus service to about 1,300 students who had been affected by the expanded but controversial “parent responsibility zone.” In a 4-1 vote, the Oak Ridge Board of Education agreed to use $300,000 in one-time money from the school system’s fund balance to restore the bus routes this year and then study the issue comprehensively before the next school year—or try to obtain more funding. The August vote essentially reversed the June decision.
But school officials weren’t able to immediately restore bus routes. Among other things, a few more bus drivers had to be hired, and some buses had to be made “road ready.”
The expanded PRZ was initially expected to save about $500,000, and the 1.5 miles measured “as the crow flies.” It originally affected an estimated 1,800 students.
But in July, school officials announced they were changing how the 1.5 miles was calculated, switching from “as the crow flies” to actual walking distance. That meant the expanded no-bus service zone affected about 500 fewer students. The change in how the distance was calculated was expected to cost the school system about $200,000, and it was made possible by unspent funds from last year’s budget that would have gone into the school system’s fund balance. That left another $300,000 that school officials had to come up with to restore bus service to last year’s levels.
However, it’s not clear if the $500,000 will be available again next year, and school officials will presumably not be able to use the fund balance again. That money is meant for emergencies and to fill in funding gaps for payroll and bills, and not for recurring expenses.
The parent responsibility zone was expanded for one year in the mid-2000s. School officials said the larger walk area for students is allowed under state regulations, and other districts have similar parent responsibility zones and sometimes even larger ones.