Angry parents again Monday night confronted Elgin Area School District U-46 officials over changes to transportation routes that will require high school students to walk up to 1½ miles to catch a bus to school.
"We want our students to catch the bus to be social and meet other kids," said Julie Remack, an Elgin resident whose 14-year-old daughter will be a freshman at Elgin High School, where Monday's meeting took place. "But we have had shootings, gangs, and there's a child molester on the block."
Starting this week, high school students eligible for transportation will walk to the nearest park, elementary or middle school if they live more than 1½ miles from their high school. District officials said the changes will save the district between $750,000 and $1.25 million in the 2011-12 school year.
Chief Operations Officer Jeff King said the state owes the district more than $14 million in transportation funds.
The new routes, which will pick high school students up at middle and elementary schools, will reduce the number of stops, wear and tear on buses, and driver pay, officials said.
But like parents at last week's meeting at Bartlett High School, many of the 70 parents at Elgin High said students' safety, not cost-savings, should be the chief concern.
"Elgin is one of the worst areas for this," Remack said. "It is about safety, and you guys aren't addressing that."
Parents said they are apprehensive about having their children walk to school in the early morning hours, possibly through unsafe neighborhoods.
Tony Sanders, the district's chief of staff, said the high school students will be taking the same walking route as younger students.
"We are not asking high school students to do anything we're not asking middle and elementary students to do," Sanders said.
But parents said younger students are walking to school in the daylight.
Angelia Gordon, the mother of an Elgin High School sophomore, said the plan is unsafe.
"I understand they are trying to save money, but we have to think about the children," Gordon said. "They are saving money, but they're not saving money if a student gets hurt. It's ridiculous."
District officials said precautions will be taken to ensure children's safety. Buses will arrive at stops five minutes before departure time, and bus drivers will be responsible for supervision.
In addition, officials said interaction with younger students will be minimized due to staggered start times. While middle schools dismiss about the same time as high school students are arriving, the district said bus stops will be located farther from the buildings.
John Heiderscheidt, coordinator of safety and security, suggested parents carpool or drive children to the bus stops, and have children buddy up with another student.
But parents said they would rather drive their child straight to school.
"That would defeat the purpose of having bus service," Remack said.