Dist. 300 saves some bus routes, axes others in bid to save $2.3 million

Good news for Fox Valley drivers, bad news for some Fox Valley parents: Community Unit District 300 buses will spend less time on the road next year.

In hopes of closing a funding shortfall expected to grow to perhaps $15 million next year, the District 300 school board Monday approved more than $2.3 million in reductions, including cuts to busing not required by law.

Late last week, responding to outcry from parents and educators, Superintendent Ken Arndt revised his recommended transportation cuts to take buses for the dual language program off the chopping block and lessen the impact on students who attend parochial schools.

The late change reduced an expected deluge of public comments at Monday's meeting to a trickle - mostly parents and other advocates thanking the board and administration for their flexibility.

Carol Norman, a teacher at St. Catherine of Siena School, was sitting in her third-grade classroom Thursday when a colleague came in to share the good news.

"All of my strictness in the classroom went out the door. I started jumping up and down," Norman said Monday. "I'm overwhelmed with happiness. - Thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

The thank-yous were in stark contrast to the hundreds of parents who in recent weeks addressed the school board at public meetings, flooded district officials' inboxes with e-mail and signed petitions opposing Arndt's original proposal - which would have slashed parochial busing in its entirety.

Under Arndt's revised proposal, approved Monday, students who go to religious schools would not get special routes but would ride the bus to their nearest middle school and board a shuttle to the school they attend.

If the restructured transportation plan for parochial schools does not work, District 300 officials have pledged to revert to the current system, in which students who attend religious schools can ride the bus directly to school.

"We are not going to have these parochial students waiting for a shuttle that does not show up," Arndt said Monday. "We are going to do everything we can to make sure this parochial transportation system works."

Other parents were not so lucky. The board voted to cut transportation for the Preschool for All program, the Elgin Community College Partnership and the Ombudsman Alternative Education Program.

The board also voted to cut back on technology upgrades, reduce individual school budgets by 10 percent and trim the district's literacy staff.

The board has laid off more than 100 teachers in the past two months. District officials are still hoping to save millions more through ongoing negotiations with the district's unions.