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Columbus school board say transportation woes are symptoms of bigger issues

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Columbus School Board president Jennifer Adair says she's confident an unprecedented mid-year overhaul of school bus routes will resolve many of the complaints the district has been fielding this year from families frustrated by buses that arrived late or not at all.

On Monday officials made the announcement that 35,000 students would have new routes and drivers when they return to buildings after the winter break. The district blames new routing software that was cumbersome and unresponsive to changes, as well as the on-going driver shortage for the problems. Adair says better software will help, but its not a long-term fix.

"The dilemma is not just education focused. This adversely affects all of Central Ohio, from people to the moving of goods. We are not going to hire our way out of this long term problem."

In a wide ranging discussion Tuesday night, board members suggested that transportation problems are just one part of the inter-related identity issues the district needs to address. Board member Tina Pierce recommends looking at state policies that cover transporting students from other districts into CCS building that offer services their own schools don't, as well as the long-standing Columbus practice allow students to attend any school within the district.

"I think we need to review how open enrollment is affecting our district. Transportation-wide is it feasible for us to continue open enrollment the way that we have it?"

Pierce also suggests factoring transportation costs into decisions to close school buildings as enrollment continues to decline.

Board member Eric Brown agrees the district needs to reconsider who is being transported. He suggests returning to an emphasis on neighborhood schools kids can walk to would alleviate the need for so many buses and routes. He admits that would require bringing in other resources and partners.

"We need to be able to create safe paths to school. We need to provide for sidewalk crossing and signage and lights. Part of that is we need to partner with, and look to, the city for help."

But other board members point out that returning to neighborhood schools raises questions about equity, making sure that programs are available to all students regardless of where they live. Something open enrollment was intended to ease.

Board members say they will begin the search for a longer term solution to problems like transportation by focusing future discussions on the changing nature of the district.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.