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Path to school leads to worry

Profile image for By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

Parents voice concerns about lacking sidewalks on way to new campus

SHADY SHORES — Parents and the mayor of Shady Shores worry pedestrian paths to and from the new Bettye Myers Middle School are unsafe for students to travel.

Valerie Silvernagel, who lives on West Shady Shores Road within 2 miles of the school, calls the route to the campus dangerous. She claims that drivers go faster than the speed limit, that several animals have been killed on the road and that there have been several accidents.

To put it plainly, Silvernagel said, “It’s not a good road.”

“There’s no sidewalks, there’s only ditches,” she said. “It’s just crazy in the morning and I’m concerned, and I know that other parents are concerned.”

On campus property along Garza Road, there are sidewalks. But beyond the property, there are none.

Silvernagel said she’s asked Denton school district personnel to bus her child because of the hazardous conditions, but was denied and was told he could walk, bike or have someone drive him to school.

However, she said, she has another child who attends Olive Stephens Elementary School, adjacent to the new middle school, who does receive bus service.

Silvernagel said she doesn’t understand why the district buses elementary students living within 2 miles of Stephens Elementary, but not students who attend Myers Middle School next door and live within the same radius.

“I just feel it’s not right,” she said.

She said her son would rather ride the bus to Myers with friends, and walking to school is not an option.

“We won’t let him walk. He’s [being] driven,” Silvernagel said. “My kid is not going to be an example and be the one who dies.”

Victor Henderson, another parent, also lives on West Shady Shores Road within 2 miles of the schools on Garza Road.

Henderson said his daughter is currently bused to Stephens Elementary, but he’s concerned that bus service will no longer be available when she enters middle school next year.

He said he understands the district has rules but believes “it’s ridiculous” transportation isn’t provided to middle school students living within 2 miles on buses that travel past their homes daily to get children to school.

“I think that’s nonsensical at best that they’ll bus my child to Olive Stephens but they won’t bus my child to Bettye [Myers Middle School],” Henderson said. “There’s just no way that they can safely walk by themselves or drive bicycles. They’ll have to be taken by their parents.”

Shady Shores Mayor Cindy Spencer said the issue is “frustrating.”

“We’re all just very hopeful it doesn’t take a tragedy to cause action,” she said. “It’s been a big source of worry to the town, and we’re very concerned.”

Spencer said the town can’t afford to put sidewalks along Shady Shores Road. Even if it could, she said, there’s a borrow ditch next to the road, leaving no room for sidewalks.

She said town officials have met with Denton ISD officials about the hazardous conditions along Shady Shores Road and have also offered suggestions for transporting students — including having bus drivers who currently transport Myers students living farther than 2 miles from school make an extra stop in Shady Shores to pick up students who live closer and need a ride to school.

Spencer said it’s also been suggested that parents in Shady Shores pay for the service. However, there’s been “no resolution,” she said.

School district officials say 11 buses currently transport Myers Middle School students living more than 2 miles from campus to school. About 45 students board each bus, with the maximum busload at 50 students, said Aaron Robbins, the district’s transportation director.

“We have to leave some seats open (the remaining five) to account [for] future growth,” Robbins wrote in a message. “These five extra seats on each bus would not be sufficient to accommodate the students who are within the two miles and would put us in a bind when student[s] move into areas outside of the two miles and do qualify for busing.”

Shady Shores residents’ concerns are not new. In recent years, parents have expressed concerns about hazardous pathways near schools along Teasley Lane (Nelson Elementary School and Guyer High School) and McKinney Street in Denton (Ryan High School).

Robbins said that if the district could transport every student, it would.

“It’s not for lack of desire,” he said, but rather a lack in funding. State funding structures for transportation have remained the same since 1985, he said.

District officials say that while enrollment has more than tripled since 1985, state funding has not. The district has a $4.5 million transportation budget this year, with fewer than $1 million of that funding coming from the state.

School districts providing transportation to students need only offer transportation to students living farther than 2 miles from school, based on Texas Education Agency guidelines, Denton school officials say.

The district does transport students within a 2-mile radius of their home campus if their pedestrian pathway to school is considered hazardous.

Any time the district has additional transportation funding or resources, those concerns are addressed starting with elementary students first, followed by middle and high school students, Robbins said. Typically, there hasn’t been enough funding to address the concern at the secondary schools.

District officials say Denton ISD analyzes annually where the greatest need is regarding students living within 2 miles of their school.

Robbins said he’s hopeful the state will realize the transportation funding structure needs reconfiguring and updating.

“It has significantly impeded our ability to service our families at a level with which we wish we can serve them and our kids,” he said. “Ultimately, we have a desire to serve our students and families the best way we can. If Austin would adjust our funding structure, that would increase our budget [and] we could better serve families.”

According to district officials, school administrators are working with Shady Shores town officials on posting more school signs near Myers Middle School and hiring crossing guards.

To assist with transportation issues, the district is working with families at Myers to help set up carpools. At an open house at the school last Tuesday, a sign-up sheet was available for parents interested in carpooling. Officials said that information was being compiled to be distributed to parents who signed up so that families who are driving their children to school can partner with those needing rides.

Silvernagel said she hadn’t heard about the carpool option, but she would be open to it.

In an effort to ensure student safety, district officials say they’re also opening doors at Myers as early as necessary for students and staying open late. University of North Texas students will be available to mentor and tutor middle school students before and after school.

District officials said the transportation alternatives — helping organize carpools and keeping doors open earlier and later — are also being offered at Crownover Middle School in Corinth.

District officials say that since boundary changes have had the greatest effect on the Myers and Crownover attendance zones, administrators have offered to work with families on allowing students to arrive early and stay late and in assisting parents “on an as-needed basis.”

“Safety is always the upmost concern for our students,” said Mario Zavala, a district spokesman.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.