School bus routes to change in Kalispell

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Kalispell Public Schools bus routes will change for the 2018-19 school year, pending approval by the Flathead County Transportation Committee.

The revised bus routes reflect the elementary boundary changes approved in January for Kalispell’s six schools — Edgerton on Whitefish Stage Road, Elrod on Third Avenue West, Hedges on Fourth Avenue East, Peterson on Second Street West, Russell on West Nevada Street and Rankin, which is under construction and is slated for completion in July.

Two shuttle buses that once traveled between elementary schools have been eliminated. These shuttles had originally been implemented to transport students displaced from attending their neighborhood schools because of overcrowding. The overcrowding problem will be alleviated when Rankin Elementary opens in the fall.

One of the benefits in eliminating the shuttle service and revising routes is that students will get on buses in a timelier fashion. Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau and district Transportation Supervisor Annie Doolan noted that some students who used the shuttle service had to be released 15 to 20 minutes before school dismissed, while at another school, students would wait until 4 p.m. to get on the bus.

Another goal of changing the routes is to minimize confusion for students taking multiple buses between school and home.

“We had kids, kindergarten students even, riding the bus to one school, getting off, having to wait at the school they weren’t familiar with, and getting on another bus. It will help with students getting lost,” Doolan said.

Some families, however, may miss the shuttle service.

“Our parents really got used to having the ability that you could bus your kid all over the entire district. So, if grandma lived in Edgerton’s district, you could go from Hedges to Edgerton and get to grandma’s house,” Doolan said adding, “This isn’t what the shuttles were initially designed for — it was to help with displaced students.”

One of the drawbacks of eliminating the shuttle buses is that a new plan will be needed to transport students who don’t have a fixed residence.

“We definitely used those shuttles to help kids stay in their home schools,” she said, noting she will work on an alternative.

Route changes impacting the district’s six elementary schools, which include Rankin, represent an overall 17-mile decrease in daily mileage from the 2017-18 school year.

Edgerton will decrease from seven to four routes.

“The only new stop locations are along East Oregon Street,” Doolan said.

Elrod Elementary will decrease from three routes to one. The majority of students who will be transported are located on the east side of U.S. 93, according to Doolan. Crossing highways or busy streets was a top concern for families when the district began revising elementary boundaries.

“I didn’t want to take away any stops we had within the boundary,” Doolan said. “On the west side of 93 was already a stop for Elrod. Otherwise, it’s mainly the students on the east side so they wouldn’t have to cross the highway.”

Hedges Elementary will increase from one to two routes.

Peterson Elementary routes will increase from three to four. This route will pick up Peterson and Rankin students through the Foys Lake area. Doolan said she added a stop at Appleway Apartments after parents raised concerns about students crossing Meridian Road.

“It is very close to the school, but it is on the other side of a busy road and won’t take much to swing by there. I don’t know if a lot of students will utilize it because they can walk [there] easily,” she said.

Rankin Elementary will have two routes.

Russell Elementary will increase from one to two routes, covering the Northridge neighborhood.

“Stops are the same, just going to Russell instead of Edgerton,” Doolan said.

The district will continue to follow transportation specifications listed in Individualized Education Plans.

Students who were reassigned to attend different schools as a result of elementary boundary changes, but received approval, or were “grandfathered in” to continue attending their current school may ride the bus, but must get to the appropriate bus stop in order to be picked up. This also applies to out-of-district students.

Busing is funded in part by a combination of a district permissive levy, state and county money. Routes are only eligible for state reimbursement when districts transport students who live 3 miles or more from school. The school district considers busing students living within 3 miles as courtesy routes. While the courtesy routes existed for displaced students before the changes, as mentioned earlier they are now implemented in locations where hazards exist such as the busy highways, according to Doolan.

Following is revised route information for next school year:

Edgerton Elementary

• No. 411 – Services the subdivision north of Glacier High School and area surrounding Kalispell Regional Medical Center, east of U.S. 93.

• No. 412 – Services Whitefish Stage Road, Trumble Creek Road and Birch Grove Road area.

• No. 414 – Services Silverbrook, Tronstad Lane and Pondrosa Pines area.

• No. 415 – Services the northeast section of Kalispell, Empire Loop and Four Mile Drive.

Elrod Elementary

• No. 421 — Services the section of Elrod’s boundary on the east side of U.S. 93. The current stop south of Elrod will remain.

Hedges Elementary

• No. 302 — The only route with kindergarten through eighth-grade riders. Stops at Kalispell Middle School first, in the morning.

• No. 431 — Services the Buttercup Loop, South Woodland Drive and Willow Glen Drive area.

Peterson Elementary

• No. 440 — Services the Foys Lake area.

• No. 441 — Services Two Mile Drive, West Springcreek Road, Whalebone Drive and Buckboard Lane.

• No. 442 — Services Empire Loop.

• No. 443 — Services Hawthorn Avenue, Liberty Street and Appleway Apartments.

Rankin Elementary

• No. 440 — Services the Foys Lake area.

• No. 461 — Services Rankin students east of U.S. 93 and Airport Road.

Russell Elementary

• No. 450 — Services Northridge and Liberty Street area.

• No. 451 — Services Northridge area.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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