Drive safely, and keep our kids safe

By Michael Soltman

For The Beachcomber

Our Island children are all back to school again, and the yellow school buses are running along Vashon’s roads and highways, picking up and delivering students each morning and afternoon. Parents and students are adjusting to the new bus transportation plan, which includes reduced bus routes and fewer stops implemented as part of a plan to achieve a balanced school budget this year.

The transportation plan savings of $100,000 was the chosen alternative to reducing an additional 1.5 teaching positions that would have further increased class sizes and reduced instructional programs. Difficult choices such as this one are due to the chronic underfunding of public education now exacerbated by the current economic crisis, which is causing further program and service reductions throughout the state. However, I must compliment our staff and board of directors for their courage in crafting a budget that enables us to “live within our means.”

You will not be surprised to hear that many of the phone calls we received in the office this past week were from concerned parents regarding the reduced transportation plan. Reduced routes and fewer stops mean that students must walk farther to bus stops.

Their primary concern was for the safety of our children walking along the shoulders of our roads and highways. I believe the safety of our children must be the entire community’s number-one concern and that it is a commitment we make together. In that vein, I’d like to offer a few suggestions:

First, I call on each of us to observe posted speed limits, to plan for sufficient travel time — especially to the ferry dock — and to reduce driving speeds even further when we know children will be present. I also call on law enforcement to be visible and vigilant during school transportation hours and to enforce existing laws that protect the safety of our children.

Parents and the PTSA can work together to provide necessary supervision of students walking to bus stops by organizing neighborhood adult volunteers to watch over younger children of working parents.

Prior to the darker days of winter, I urge all parents to put reflective tape on children’s backpacks and jackets so that they can be easily seen by drivers.

I urge property owners to take an active role in increasing the visibility and safety along our roads by making requests of our county road crews to trim overgrown foliage. As bus stops are finalized, we will work with the county to update roadside signage allowable by law.

Vashon Island School District’s business is to educate children and keep them safe. Our bus drivers are proud of their impeccable record of service and safety, and our district transportation department values your ideas and suggestions. We will continue to refine our plan within the resources we have.

However, I believe the safety of our children ultimately lies in the actions we take as a community to protect them. We can reduce our speed, obey traffic laws, plan for sufficient time to make the boat, watch for our children, increase visibility and work together to provide the safety of adult supervision. Thanks for your care.

— Michael Soltman is superintendent of the Vashon Island School District.

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