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Canton school cosiders ending bus service for village students

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CANTON - Students who live within the village limits would be required to walk to school under a cost-saving measure being explored by the Canton Central School Board.

Faced with a $2.4 million budget deficit next school year, school officials are scrutinizing ways to trim expenses without hurting academic programs.

The busing measure is under consideration because the district’s policy exceeds state mandates and is far more liberal than other large districts in St. Lawrence County.

School Superintendent William A. Gregory told board members eliminating bus service to students who live within the Canton village limits would eliminate three bus driver positions and save roughly $70,000 a year.

The cost savings doesn’t include future retirement benefits for the three bus driver positions.

“If we get to drastic cuts, this may be something we look at,” Mr. Gregory said.

Some other area school districts, including Potsdam, Ogdensburg and Massena, already restrict who is provided bus service based on how far they live from their school building and their grade level.

For several years, Canton Central has been exceeding state requirements by providing bus service to all students, regardless of how close they live to the school building complex at 99 State St.

“Essentially, we’ve been providing door-to-door busing,” Mr. Gregory said.

At neighboring Potsdam Central, busing is provided for all students through grade 4. However, bus rides are not provided for fifth and sixth graders who live within 1.25 miles. Those in grades 7-12 who reside within 1.5 miles must also find their own way to school.

According to Section 35.18 of state education law, a district may require children in grades kindergarten through eight to walk up to 2 miles to school, while students in grades 9 to 12 to walk up to 3 miles from their homes to school.

For safety reasons, Mr. Gregory said he’s not in favor of eliminating transportation within those distances because it would impact students who live on busy highways where sidewalks are not available, such as routes 68 and 11.

“I don’t want kids walking on those roads. Even though the law allows it, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

By contrast, the village speed limit is 30 mph and sidewalks are available, making walking to school safer for those who live in the village.

A large percentage of Canton students within the village already find other ways to get to school, according to district statistics.

About 184 of the 302 village students in grades kindergarten through eight ride the school bus. In grades 9-12, there are 104 students who live in the village, with about 25 riding the bus.

In paperwork provided to the board, Mr. Gregory listed sample walking distances from the farthest village corners.

The distance from Clark Street near St. Lawrence University’s Appleton Arena is 1.75 miles; Craig Street at the edge of Martin track, 1.6 miles; Gouverneur Street near rail crossing, 1.5 miles; Riverside Drive at village limit, 1.5 miles; East Main Street, Mountain Mart, 1.2 miles; Judson Street at the village limit, 1.1 mile.

On days when it’s extremely cold, Mr. Gregory said the district could consider using a van to pick up village students who may be walking.

In the Ogdensburg City School, busing is not provided to students who live within the city limits unless the child has special needs or there is a hardship.

At Massena Central, busing is not provided to elementary students who live within three-fourths of a mile from school. For grades 7-12, students who live within 1.5 miles of school must get a car ride or walk to school.

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