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Central bus pickups going nowhere

After two years discussing whether to eliminate picking up students in front of their homes in residential developments, the Starpoint School Board tested the idea over the past three months in 10 neighborhoods but found the move would only save the district only about $14,000 a year in fuel -- if that.

The test results were announced at Monday's board meeting by Stephen J. Lunden, director of administrative services.

The news appeared to leave the board no closer to determining whether it should establish central student pickup points in the district's 19 residential developments than it was before the trial program using central pickups was conducted in November, December and January.

Lunden said the pilot program was conducted with the idea the results would show how much time would be saved on bus routes and how much money the district would save.

But the study showed each bus route was only cut back by roughly one to three minutes and that savings appeared only to come in at 6 percent, or $14,000, when the program was projected over all 19 residential developments. Time and diesel fuel consumption were carefully monitored during the test and compared with normal door-to-door bus runs, he said.

Board member Diane Braun said she realized $14,000 "is nothing" when compared with the district's $36.4 million budget. However, she added, something has to be done sometime with residential developments growing throughout the district.

Board member Mary Brown said the board might want to focus more on the future and work with officials in the towns and with developers to make sure there are sidewalks and better lighting in new neighborhoods to increase safety for children who might use central pickup locations.

Board member Kelly Zarcone said a petition from one neighborhood showed about two of 74 homeowners objecting to central pickups. Of the two, "One was a school district employee and the other was a board member," she said.

Board President Sam Geraci said the board still had to consider that other school districts such as Niagara-Wheatfield and Lancaster have similar developments and successfully use central pickups.

He added that even though $14,000 might not represent a large amount of money, it could be used to do things to enhance education such as beefing up the district's school libraries, a pet concern of several board members.

He added, "Every penny you spend on transportation is a penny taken away from students' learning."

Board members said they would review all resident concerns and the results of the test program before deciding what to do with the proposal at the March 13 board meeting.

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