Students in the far west regions of Sonoma County are concerned about how they'll be getting to school this fall. With the pending consolidation between El Molino High School and Analy High School, the district's transportation services have been a point of concern for many in the community for months. Superintendent of West Sonoma County High School District Toni Beal said that she and the school board can confirm that the district will be providing transportation options next school year.
In interviews conducted prior to the district finalizing its transportation plan, El Molino students and families from Cazadero, Jenner and one student from Gualala expressed how they were feeling overwhelmed and don't know what is to come next year with their prospective commute to Sebastopol.
The new transportation option will include, "Home to school transportation on the same routes as we currently offer for El Molino students. We will be re-extending bus routes to Fort Ross, Bodega and Cazadero," Beal explained in an email on May 19.
In a later interview, Beal confirmed that the district will be continuing its full bus routes coming along the river to take students to and from the Analy campus. Additionally, Beal said that the district will also be providing shuttle service to and from the El Molino and Analy campuses for students who may be taking classes at the El Molino campus.
The decision to provide transportation wasn’t finalized until the bell schedule for the upcoming year was voted on by district trustees. Now that the schedule’s been voted on, the district has been able to move forward and circulate its transportation plans. Beal said that information about transportation was sent out to parents in community updates from the district.
"The cost of increased transportation was figured into the potential cost savings of merging the two high schools, so no additional reductions are being made to offer these bus routes," she responded when asked if any funds got cut in order to maintain bus routes to far west county.
Beal explained that the community receives Community Updates via the district’s Parent Square system that sends the message out to all parents via email, text and the Parent Square App. The district gets a weekly update on how many went out and how many were received. From a community update sent out on Sunday May 16, 2,421 emails were sent out to parents and 1,124 of them were viewed, Beal said. 455 received the message via text and 163 via the Parent Square App.
"So we are doing our best to get the message out in a variety of ways and keep our community informed," she said.
Cazadero residents are feeling a large burden trying to figure out transportation to Sebastopol. Naustachia Green’s daughter, D’ayona Jerome, is a sophomore at El Molino.
“It’s a little overwhelming and stressful because as of right now, we’re already driving 40 minutes from here to get to school on time every day. And just thinking about more movement, farther away, it’s just overwhelming to think about,” Green explained in an April 28 interview.
Jerome and her stepfather, Jason Anglero, were interviewed together with Green on April 28, before the district’s May 16 community update was released. Anglero said he is troubled about what may be their new commute to school, “It’s an hour and 15 minutes from our house to Analy. So, if we go to Sebastopol in the morning and back, that’s two and a half hours just in the morning, two and a half hours in the afternoon to pick her up … We’d be spending as much time as she is in class driving her to the next campus,” Anglero said.
Anglero also shared how unfair the commute will be for families further out west and north, “The travel time doesn’t really make sense. For us that live out here, Fort Ross, Jenner, Cazadero, for us to commute to El Molino, we already struggle to do it. To burden us with a farther drive is unrealistic.”
But the commute is not the only worry Anglero has. He's voiced his concerns about the financial burden. “How long can we keep up financially? The drive, the wear and tear on the vehicles, one parent only working in the household, how long can we keep up this facade? Until she graduates? That’s two years. We’re already crunching numbers right now. This is going to be rough.” Anglero’s family, along with others, are struggling so much that they might even leave the west county district.
“I mean, we’re actually looking at homeschooling because there’s not a lot of other choices,” Anglero said. Many community members bring up the worry of how many El Molino students will choose not to attend the new consolidated high school due to the burden of transportation and other issues discussed at school board meetings.
Kingston Antholzner, an El Molino junior and Cazadero resident, said on April 13 that he doesn't know how he will get to school next year since he already lives so far away from El Molino. Antholzner's parents leave for work two hours before school starts and there is no way he'll be able to get to school on foot or bike, he said. He said his only solution is to get a driver's permit and feels frustrated and confused with the school board since he hadn’t been notified about what their bus route plans will be for next year yet.
Anglero and Antholzner spoke of their frustration with consolidation as unfair, referring to the lack of resources in west county already. how little resources exist in west county already “It’s really messed up because for west county, El Molino’s the only high school we have,” Anglero said.
Jannet Ruiz, a junior at El Molino, is a Jenner resident. Ruiz said she wakes up at 5 a.m. every day and catches the bus in Duncans Mills at 6 a.m. for school. Ruiz already gets a ride down to her bus stop as it is about a 25-to-30-minute drive to get from her house to the bus stop.
“I would rarely get ride from my mom I don’t like to burden her with the long drive all the way to Forestville,” she said.
Ruiz explained that her mother is a single mom who works a full-time job, and would hate for her mom to worry about car rides. The new commute to Analy High School has caused her to worry about getting a car and driver’s permit, since public transport is rare in Jenner.
“I'm currently even looking at other schools,” Ruiz said. When asked if there was anything she would like to tell the school board and community she said, “It’s a right as a student to have available transportation. El Molino made it easy for us to go to school because of its closeness to our homes. It is unfair that they’re making us go to a new school that is further away.”
El Molino freshman Eliel Ortega attends in-person school twice a week and uses the bus as his main way of getting to school. Ortega is a Gualala resident who catches the bus in Fort Ross at 6:30 a.m. In an interview prior to Beal’s announcement about maintaining existing bus schedules, Ortega expressed that he’s worried he won’t have the bus as an option next year, and that it would be a burden if his bus stop got moved to Jenner due to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to get a car ride down there.
For Ruiz, the burdens of transportation come back to the planned consolidation of Analy and El Molino high schools. The community wants El Molino to stay open, Anglero said.