Parents divided over SD51 proposal to extend student walking distances

By: Taylor Temby Email
By: Taylor Temby Email

Parents and students will head into summer break with many questions about how next school year will look. The school district proposed its final budget to the board last night, with a few controversial cuts.

The new proposed walking distance for some students has parents divided. Some are very concerned, especially those with younger children, who could now be walking as far as two miles to and from school. Others say it was the least intrusive cut the district could've made. Either way, the possible change raises some questions.

It's a delicate balance. Busing has been offered to families for a long time in School District 51.

"People need to understand that transportation isn't mandated in our state. Our district has chosen to transport students," School District 51 director of transportation David Montoya said. "[Transportation] is one of those big ticket items we have to take a look at."

With looming budget cut, extending walking distances for some students would save the district $565,000 next year.

"[My daughter is] almost nine. I would not feel comfortable with a nine year old, let alone a five or six year old [walking to school]," district 51 parent Julie Bockelman said.

Elementary students could walk up to two miles to school, middle and high schoolers up to three, which makes some parents uneasy.

"[Where my child would walk] it's a way busy road, the speed limit is way too high," Bockelman said.

"It just seems like, you're not always sure if the kids are paying really close attention, so that's definitely a concern," added parent Stephanie Heald.

Some parents say the areas by their schools don't always have crosswalks or sidewalks.

"We address all of those issues as we can to accommodate what we're trying to do with our service," Montoya said. He says the school district can address these issues with the help of the community.

"The drivers on the street, our city and county governments to put that infrastructure in there if it's needed," he said.

The county can help make improvements where there are safety concerns.

"The county has been able to go out and maybe make some signage improvements or whatever might be appropriate in that specific situation," county spokesperson Jessica Peterson said.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office says if students start walking, parents should take an active role, too.

"If their kids are going to walk to school, choose a safe route for the kids to walk and walk it with them before school starts," sergeant Jeff Byrne said.

While this change hasn't been approved by the school board yet, nearly $5.8 million has to be cut somehow.

"I would just drive my kids to school," parent Melissa Rogers said.

"This is going to affect a lot of people's lives," added Montoya.

Other parents we spoke with say extending walking distances was a smart budget cut, because it didn't take away from the classroom.

Here's what you need to know if your students will have to walk next year. The sheriff's office says parents should time the routes so they know when their student should arrive home, teach students about crosswalks and the different signs they may come across, and if there is no sidewalk, walk against traffic as far away from the cars as possible.

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