Merced Union High School District votes to eliminate bus routes

MERCED, Calif.

The Merced Union High School District approved the budget cuts Wednesday night. The district says over the next few years - it would save nearly two and half million dollars by doing so. But bus drivers say their students will be put at risk now.

Soon the people who drive these school buses may be heading to the unemployment line. Bus drivers pleaded to keep their jobs and bus routes. But the school board said cuts have to be made and students will either have to walk or take the city bus.

Habib Velasquez rides the bus to school each day - since her father has a grueling work schedule.

Habib's father, Amin Velasquez said, "She cannot walk two miles at six in the morning, when the weather is wrong."

Wednesday's vote essentially eliminates school bus service where public transit exists - within a five mile radius of district schools.

"A lot of these students won't have a way to school," said Shirley Medeiros. "They're going to be extremely effected by this."

Shirley Medeiros - a district bus driver for the past 10 years - worries she'll become another number in the North Valley's double digit unemployment. "There's not hardly any work here in Merced that I know, so it would make life very difficult."

While jobs are important, the bus drivers' union says its main concern is student safety and continued education.

"We need bussing for our students," said Gloria Coulombe. "They won't go to school. Dropout rates will go up, we need to provide that transportation for them."

The district plan places transit responsibility on public buses - which the plan says would cost each student 300-dollars a year. Some argue families in the district can't afford the extra cost.

Superintendent Scott Scamray blames lawmakers in Sacramento for the district's financial problems. "After three years, you're getting to the meat of our programs, transportation, because there is nothing else left to cut."

The board will meet and vote one more time to finalize the reduction of student bus service. The district says it will hold community meeting to determine where the buses will and will not go.

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