Marshalltown Schools a ‘no’ on GMG bus drop-off

More open enrollment sighted as fear

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Each day before and after school, a group of cars from the Marshalltown School District lines up at the intersection of Garwin Road and Taylor Avenue to pick up and drop off students open enrolling to Green Mountain-Garwin. Here, the bus drops off students after school Friday.

A disagreement about a Green Mountain-Garwin School District school bus pick-up and drop-off zone remains unresolved after a special Marshall County Board of Supervisors meeting Friday.

The issue stems from residents’ complaints about a stretch of Taylor Avenue near its intersection with Garwin Road east of Marshalltown. That stretch is the current pick-up/drop-off point for students who live in Marshalltown but open enroll to GMG – it is also very near the border between the two districts.

“This is at our request to get all the players in the room to try and find out if we can get a solution to this,” said board Vice Chairman Dave Thompson at the meeting.

Due to the safety concerns brought up the group of Taylor Avenue residents, the board requested leadership from the two schools work to find a new location for the Marshalltown children to be picked up by GMG school buses. The option the supervisors pushed for was to move the location to Weise Garden Road, west of the current zone and in the Marshalltown School District.

“As a superintendent, I fully understand the concern that the county has relative to the situation, but as I’ve said on two prior occasions to Supervisor Thompson, it’s really a Green Mountain-Garwin problem,” said Marshalltown Superintendent Theron Schutte. “When you as a school district choose to take on students from outside of your district, there’s a certain level of assurance that you’re not only going to be able to provide a high-quality education, but you’re going to be able to safely accommodate them.”

School board member Mike Miller agreed.

“Open enrollment has been an issue for several years at the Marshalltown School District … one of the reasons I ran for the school board was to stem that tide by making more parents choose to keep their kids in Marshalltown because they think they’re going to get the best education there,” he said.

The Marshalltown officials said moving the zone inside the district would make it more convenient for families choosing to open enroll out of Marshalltown. When a child goes to a different school district, their home district must pay the state per-student funding to the school district the child goes to.

At Marshalltown this year, that means each of the 586 students who open enroll to other districts carry about $6,700 in school funding with each of them.

Petty said he had approached previous Marshalltown Superintendent Marvin Wade about this same issue in 2015. Marshalltown’s answer back then was the same as the one given Friday.

“I didn’t try to influence him or the board because if I was the Marshalltown superintendent, I wouldn’t allow that on Weise Garden Road unless my board said ‘Yeah, we want to do that,'” Petty said. “I get along with Theron well. I understand exactly where he’s coming from.”

After the question of moving the spot was shut down in 2015, Petty said messages were sent out to district parents discouraging them from parking too far out into the stretch of Taylor Avenue and blocking residents’ driveways, among other behaviors the residents complained about.

From a safety standpoint, the county officials said they have heard calls for years about the location of the current pick-up/drop off spot. County Sheriff Steve Hoffman and county engineer Paul Geilenfeldt both said they knew of safety concerns on that stretch.

“I would equate it to the congestion of the Marshalltown Schools during school hours when the buses are picking up. Likewise, it’s over in a relatively brief period of time,” Hoffman said, acknowledging there are several people who may come prior to the buses arrival each day.

Petty and the county officials said there were no known accidents, injuries or close calls that had occurred at the spot, despite local residents’ frustrations.

With the Marshalltown officials not budging on the issue of allowing GMG buses to pick up students within the Marshalltown School District, the meeting was adjourned without a solution.

“Personally, I’m a little disappointed,” Thompson said. He and Patten said the county’s main concern on the matter is the safety of the children who gather at the spot every school day.

Schutte said the county and GMG leaders should seek a solution within the district that doesn’t involve other school districts.