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Canton district considers ending bus service for village students

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CANTON — Students who live within the village limits would lose bus transportation under a cost-saving measure being explored by the Canton Central School District Board of Education.

Faced with a $2.4 million budget deficit next school year, officials are examining ways to trim expenses without hurting academic programs.

The busing measure is under consideration because the district’s policy exceeds state mandates and is far more liberal than those at other large districts in St. Lawrence County.

Superintendent William A. Gregory told board members that eliminating bus service for students who live in the village of Canton would eliminate three bus driver positions and save roughly $70,000 a year.

The cost savings doesn’t include future retirement benefits for the three bus driver positions.

“If we get to drastic cuts, this may be something we look at,” Mr. Gregory said.

Other districts, including Potsdam and Massena central schools and the Ogdensburg City School District, already restrict bus service, based on students’ grade levels and how far they live from their school buildings.

For several years, Canton Central has been exceeding state requirements by providing bus service to all students, regardless of how close they live to the school building complex at 99 State St.

“Essentially, we’ve been providing door-to-door busing,” Mr. Gregory said.

At neighboring Potsdam Central, busing is provided for all students through fourth grade. However, bus rides are not provided for fifth- and sixth-graders who live within 1 miles of their campus. Those in grades seven through 12 who reside within 1 miles of their building also must find their own way to school.

According to Section 35.18 of state Education Law, a district may require children in kindergarten through eighth grade to get their own rides or walk up to 2 miles to school; for students in grades nine to 12, the distance is up to 3 miles.

Mr. Gregory said that for safety reasons, he’s not in favor of eliminating transportation within those distances because that would affect students who live on busy highways without sidewalks, such as routes 11 and 68.

“I don’t want kids walking on those roads,” he said. “Even though the law allows it, it doesn’t make sense.”

In contrast, the village speed limit is 30 mph and sidewalks are available, making walking to school safer for those students.

Many students from the village already find other ways to get to school, according to district statistics.

Of 302 village students in kindergarten through eighth grade, 184 ride the school bus. In grades nine through 12, there are 104 students who live in the village, with about 25 of them riding the bus.

In paperwork provided to the board, Mr. Gregory listed sample walking distances from the farthest village corners.

The distance from Clark Street near St. Lawrence University’s Appleton Arena is 1.75 miles; from Craig Street at the edge of Martin track, 1.6 miles; from Gouverneur Street near rail crossing, 1.5 miles; from Riverside Drive at village limit, 1.5 miles; from East Main Street, Mountain Mart, 1.2 miles; and from Judson Street at the village limit, 1.1 miles.

On days when it’s extremely cold, Mr. Gregory said, the district could consider using a van to pick up students who may be walking.

In the Ogdensburg City School District, busing is not provided to students who live within the city limits unless the child has special needs or there is a hardship.

At Massena Central, busing is not provided to elementary students who live within three-fourths of a mile of school. For grades seven through 12, students who live within 1 miles of school must get their own ride or walk to school.

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