School Board Candidates Respond to Active Transportation Questions

  1. The mission of PedNet Coalition is “to create a comprehensive active transportation network, promote healthy lifestyles for all, and engage the community through education and advocacy.” As a School Board member, what role could you play in helping PedNet achieve this mission?

KingAs someone who is very active, and is a huge advocate for activity, exercise, healthy eating, this aspect of everyone’s life is very important.  We know the advantage on our health that if we are active, healthy, etc it is a huge cost savings in potential medical expenses, missed school, missed work and overall increased productivity – school or work related.  That being said, it is important for all Public Schools to create the awareness of the importance of these aspects in the lives of our students.  We also need to promote at each school a culture that is conducive to movement, activity and exercise. 

At Columbia Public Schools, at least since I was first elected in 2009, we have promoted the power of the individual school and its leader to help spread messages and communicate missions, values and goals.   We need to be sure and create avenues for people to gain information and knowledge about items such as walking to school.  However, we are still bound by some legal restrictions as it relates to providing transportation to school, and obviously cannot limit a parent’s decision to drive their child to school rather than walk.  But, that also means we have great opportunity on education and seeking out unique ways to engage parents and community members. 

Our School Board has three main responsibilities – Govern the District through Policy, Approve the Budget and be good stewards of the public monies used to fund our schools and Hire and Supervise the Superintendent.  We need to provide one clear and concise communication and direction to our Superintendent and allow him to lead his team to achieve the goals we have set forth.  In my opinion, myself as a Board Member would support our schools to be a conduit of allowing the community and parents to seek out information regarding healthy lifestyles and transportation networks.  We also must use some of our current structures that are in place at many of our schools regarding these topics.

Preis – As a former PedNet board member and past President, I remain committed to the mission of the PedNet Coalition.  As a School Board Member I will continue to facilitate communication with the CPS Administration, look for opportunities to build partnerships that enhance both active living and student outcomes, and filter board action through my belief that health, education, and economic stability are integrally inter-related.

2. How do you see the City and Columbia Public Schools working together to encourage students of all ages to walk, bike, and use public transportation to commute to and from school?

King – Regarding all these forms of transportation, we, the City, School Board and interest/advocacy groups need to be careful about trying to force people to do things, but rather demonstrate and create opportunity.  My opinion, is the city can insure more sidewalks and bike lanes, or just wider streets with proper berms on the sides for walking and riding.  Certainly, I understand cost issues as well.  Our schools need to create a culture that works for the school, in creating and environment in which children want to walk or ride their bikes to school. 

Public Transportation has been a great mystery to many.  In my opinion, unlike in larger metropolitan cities, Columbia community members do not see public transportation as an asset, whether it be for themselves as adults or for their children to get to and from school, work, etc.  So, we need to find out from parents AND students, what would it take to encourage the students to ride public transportation.  Is it ease of stops? Is it Wi-Fi on buses? Is it cost? Is it having routes that run at various times to take into consideration activities and work schedules?  This is something the school district leaders can get behind as it is an option for students, and at CPS, we love to provide options to all families.

Preis – I would like to see expanded and additional pilot projects to make public transportation available to CPS students.  The board should also support City activity to improve sidewalks and the bikeability of all streets.  I very much support the concept of bike boulevards and will continue to support the expansion of trails and pedways.  I will personally participate in the city’s most recently approved transportation study and will encourage my school board colleagues and the CPS administration to also do so.  I will also support school initiatives to participate in walk to school days, Walking School Buses, and bike brigades.

3. The School District transportation policies state: “Attention will be given to creating safe routes to schools that encourage walking or biking by students. The Board encourages bus routes and schedules that incorporate a short distance of safe walking into every student’s transportation plan.” And “The Columbia Public School District shall promote safe walking and bicycling to school whenever possible.” How can the school district carry out these policies to allow students to safely walk and bike for transportation?

King – This is a complex issue and not sure we will ever have good data to support the face more kids are walking to school or not.  Currently, our transportation policy provides transportation, K – 8, to any student who lives beyond a mile, door to door to their school.  State regulations only require the policy to transport students who live greater than 3 miles. So, we are picking up more students, potentially, who may be able to walk.  Therefore, we need to create bus stops, much like Wentzville School District, in which there are fewer stops, with more children and children may need to walk up to a certain distance to get to the stop.  This will reduce the number of stops, possibly the amount of bus traffic through some neighborhoods and may increase the amount of activity before and after school.  The other challenge we have now, is the start times of our elementary schools.  For the 740am start times, and they tend to be our rural schools, most students take the bus or are taken to school. 

Currently we inform the city when there are danger spots, sidewalk issues, etc, and we alter routes if need be and there have been times in which the city is able to respond to the information. 

This is an issue in which constant reminding, communicating and creating school culture to encourage walking, biking and more activity is paramount.  The goal, in my opinion is to increase activity in all our student’s lives, and if we can create the atmosphere, along with consistent education, we will gradually see a change. 

With our new service with TSA for Bus Services, they have already begun making some changes to make our routes more efficient which should help to some degree.

Preis – We have an opportunity this year to engage a new transportation company (Student Transportation of America) in walk to bus stop initiatives and to consider with us routes and options that fulfill our policy intent.  The best way to meet the intent of these policies is to reinvigorate the Walking School Bus program.  In light of challenging revenue forecasts, it would be best to see grassroots efforts led by schools to organize, facilitate, and implement WSB routes.  I will support this effort in any way possible.  Shortly after re-joining the school board in 2012 I helped to get these policies adopted but I think we have a long way to go to fully honor their intent.

4.What will you do in your next term to increase walking and biking to and from school?

King – Honestly, as a school board member, I am not sure “I” can increase walking and biking to and from school. Rather, as a Leader of our District, can encourage and support school cultures to create an environment in which more parents and students want to ride their bikes or walk to school. Certainly, our bus routing is something that may create some additional activity.   We, as a Board, need to have Dr. Stiepleman and his staff work closely with Building Principals about what works and how to implement. I am careful as a Board Member to think about how any program or activity may be carried out at the building level, and that is where our staff comes in to play. 

We live in a community in which everyone enjoys a great deal of choice on what they do and don’t do. To regulate these activities, as great as it is for all, is not necessarily what our community wants. So, as a Board Member, my main role is support and encourage walking and biking to school, and work with leaders on culture. Additionally, be sure we are following our policy for safe routes to school.

Preis – As I stated above, I will support school level initiatives to rebuild the Walking School Bus at CPS. I will also maintain communication with PedNet staff and board members and listen for viable ideas to meet this objective. I will also keep pushing for walkable/bikeable attendance areas as we continue to build new schools.