YOUNGSTOWN - The executive director of the Western Reserve Transit Authority said that he intends to meet with officials from the Austintown school district and the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown next week to discuss the district's new transportation plan for students attending certain out-of-district schools.
James Ferraro, who has been with WRTA some 30 years, said he needs more information about the plan before he can help put it into action.
"We're not in the school bus business, but if there's a way we can help, we will," he said Monday. "I'm just now learning something about it, but I really need more details. I think we can come up with something that can help the school district and ease parents' concerns a little better."
About a month ago, school officials notified parents that district buses would no longer transport students who live in Austintown to out-of-district private and charter schools.
Instead, the district intends to pay for vouchers for students to ride WRTA buses. The plan is to take effect this fall. St. Joseph and Immaculate Heart of Mary School students will continue to use Austintown school buses because that school is within township borders.
Under state law, public school districts still are responsible for getting private-school students to school. Superintendent Vincent Colaluca was not available for comment Monday. However, when the Tribune Chronicle first reported on the issue last month, Colaluca said he had been in contact with state officials and that the plan meets legal requirements. He noted that Austintown residents who attend Youngstown Christian School were provided WRTA vouchers this year.
Ferraro said he hadn't had any communication about the matter with school officials until a few days ago, but became aware of it "just like everyone else" through news reports.
Meanwhile, Austintown Parents for the Safe Transportation of Students Committee, in association with the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, has scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. today at St. Christine Elementary School on South Schenley Avenue in Youngstown to promote public awareness of the matter group members are calling a "critical issue."
"To think that the very people who are responsible for making sure our children are safe and remain out of harm's way would be the ones to come up with a plan like this is disturbing and alarming," said Debbie Woodford, a member of the parents group.
When you go
n Austintown Parents for the Safe Transportation of Students Committee has scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. today at St. Christine Elementary School, South Schenley Avenue, Youngstown, to discuss the busing plan.
Woodford has two children who attend out-of-district parochial schools.
She said many parents are worried about sending their children on public buses, especially since some of them will have to ride one bus to the WRTA terminal on West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown and wait there unsupervised for a connecting bus. Some students will be picked up at WRTA bus stops, such as the one at Walmart on Mahoning Avenue, as early as 6:35 a.m. each day to begin the trek to school.
"Can you imagine having young children waiting for a bus at a bus station downtown, in an area that is not considered to be safe at all, unsupervised until the next bus comes?" Woodford asked.
Ferraro said he is willing to work with the school district to try to come up with a plan to transport the students directly to school before carrying other passengers to their destinations.