To the untrained ear, the first day back for students at the four Warren Local schools sounded the same Monday as any other first day of school. The hallways filled with the sounds of laughter, enthralling tales about summer vacations and new music discoveries playing through shared headphones.
But it was more subtle sounds that defined the district’s first day -the sound of the first bell ringing at a different hour for all three elementary schools and the sound of hundreds of parents breathing a sigh of relief as busing returned to Warren High School after a two-year absence.
“I am very, very ecstatic about having busing back,” said Rachel Alkire, who has two children who attend Warren High School and one who attends Barlow-Vincent Elementary.
The Warren Local Board of Education eliminated the service two years ago to free up funding for facility repairs after the defeat of multiple bond issues to build new schools.
The elimination of high school busing – which is not required by state law – was expected to reduce district expenses by $750,000 to $850,000 a year, Gibbs said. A loss of $350,000 to $450,000 in state funding was also expected due to the accompanying reduction in the number of students riding, putting the anticipated overall savings between $350,000 and $400,000.
In fact, the savings turned out to be more than $800,000 after the state replaced the evidence-based funding model implemented under previous Gov. Ted Strickland with a “bridge formula” that allocated funds based on how much districts previously received and didn’t take into account how many students were riding buses.
Changes in the state funding formula and a drop in enrollment later negated the savings.
Warren Treasurer Melcie Wells has said bringing back busing will cost at least $450,000, and that doesn’t include the purchases of new buses.
Alkire, who lives near the Athens County line, drove her eldest daughter Adrienne Lang, 15, back and forth to school last year and will not miss the nearly 40 minute one-way commute.
The bus ride is a little bit longer, but not too bad, said Adrienne, a sophomore.
The school district has received a huge amount of positive feedback about the return of busing, said Warren Local school district Superintendent Kyle Newton. While attendance numbers are hard to gauge on the first day of school, Newton said he is confident busing has helped retain students.
“I would not say we’ve had a rise (in attendance). We haven’t had as great as a decrease. We’ve lost less students than we have in the past and I’m quite happy about that,” he said.
In July, the school district hired 10 additional drivers to fill all 28 bus routes, said Newton. There are currently four substitute drivers but need more, he added.
With the return of high school busing, the three elementary schools also reverted to the daily schedules they had used before busing was changed.
Barlow-Vincent Elementary, which was previously running from 9:05 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., now holds classes from 7:50 a.m. to 2:20 p. m. The switch brings them more in line with the high school schedule: 7:58 a.m. to 3:04 p.m.
Warren Elementary and Little Hocking Elementary have done the opposite. Previously the two elementary schools were running from 7:50 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. and are now returning to a 9:05 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. school day.
Warren Township resident Mike Wagner said he prefers the later start day for his Warren Elementary student, Laura Wagner, 11.
“The younger kids take more time and attention to get ready than the older kids. Plus it’s nice to let them sleep in a little longer,” said Mike, who also has a son who attends Warren High School.
Last year, Wagner and another family took turns carpooling to the high school-Mike making the morning trip and the other family making the afternoon run. But even splitting the duties, commuting was costly and time consuming.
“Last year I put close to 3,500 miles on my car and probably spent $35 a week on gasoline. I’m glad things are back to normal. It’s not just our family. It was tough for all families trying to juggle work and get the kids dropped off,” he said.
Little Hocking and Warren High School mother Rhonda Steele said she is also glad to be done with that juggling act.
Living in Athens last year, Steele had to drive all three of her children to school. This year the family moved to Little Hocking and Steele’s son Ryan Cain, 16, is able to use the newly reinstated high school busing. In addition, the later hours for elementary students Briley Steele, 8 and Katelyn Cain, 14, make it easier for Rhonda, a nurse, to work day shift.
“I like the later school day. They’re not home alone now,” she said.
The changing school times was the big topic of conversation at Warren Elementary Monday, said Newton.
“There was lots of talk about the later start time. It’s not bad or good, it’s just different,” he said.
The biggest challenge will simply be getting parents and students used to the schedule change, he said.
But for one group of students, the schedule will require no adjustments. For dozens of wide-eyed students, Monday was their first ever day of school.
At B-V, kindergartners and their parents participated in a special shortened day of activities to get the youngsters acclimated.
“They get to do a scavenger hunt so they get familiar with the classroom and later they get to go for a bus ride so if tomorrow is their first time on a bus, it will take a little of the anxiety away,” said kindergarten teacher Beth Maidens.
Most of the students rode to school with their parents for the first-day initiation, which was split into two sessions. The first set of students spent 8 to 10:30 a.m. getting acclimated with their parents. The second set had orientation from 10:30 a.m. to noon, said Maidens.
Among those attending orientation Monday morning were 5-year-old Coen Holman and his parents Christa and Shannon Holman.
Coen’s older brother, 6-year-old Ayden, started kindergarten in the Marietta City School District last year and did not have a similar orientation, said Shannon.
“We came to (kindergarten) orientation last week too. This is nice. I think it just eases it for him,” he said.
Not that Coen needed to ease into kindergarten slowly. He was raring to go Monday morning.
“I’m here to go to my classroom,” he announced as he strutted through the front doors.