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Students need safe way to school

Denton school district officials recently announced that the district’s projected enrollment for the 2013-14 fiscal budget was on target, with 26,233 students as of Thursday, just one short of the predicted total of 26,234.

According to a first-quarter growth report, Denton ISD ranks third behind the Frisco and Northwest school districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in a new-home ranking report. The dynamic growth is good news because it will bring many benefits. Unfortunately, some Denton school district parents are concerned about a downside to the growth.

These parents are worried that pedestrian paths to and from the new Bettye Myers Middle School in Shady Shores are unsafe because there are no sidewalks. There are sidewalks on campus property, along Garza Road, but beyond the property, there are none.

One parent, who lives on West Shady Shores Road within 2 miles of the school, told us that she’s asked the district to bus her child because of the hazardous conditions, but was denied. What makes the situation difficult to understand, the parent said, is that she has another child who attends Olive Stephens Elementary School, adjacent to the new middle school, and this child does receive bus service.

The parent 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.

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, and even if it could, she said, a ditch next to the road leaves no room.

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 2 miles and would put us in a bind when student[s] move into areas outside of the 2 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; however, state funding structures for transportation have remained the same since 1985. 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. Officials said the district does transport students within a 2-mile radius of their home campus if their pedestrian pathway to school is considered hazardous.

School administrators are working with Shady Shores officials to post more school signs and to hire crossing guards. The district is also working with families to help set up carpools and district officials say they’re also opening school doors early and staying open late to help parents.

Such options are a good start, but we question if they go far enough. In our view, citizen concerns must play a key role in deciding which routes are hazardous, and a lack of sidewalks along any primary path to a school should be a determining factor.

We encourage school district and municipal officials to find a way to overcome budget limitations and identify a permanent solution to this problem. If children’s safety is truly our first priority, we should be able to make it happen.