Cloquet Transit’s director of transportation, Patrick Bryne, and Cloquet Superintendent Michael Cary have been looking into possible ways to bring a winter bus route to students who live in the district’s walking boundaries.

After a discussion with Bryne, Cloquet School Board voted during its meeting Monday, Sept. 23, to directed Cary to implement a winter bus route that would pick up students who live 0.5-1.5 miles from the middle and high schools, or in a six-block radius around the two schools.

Anywhere beyond that radius is already included in a bus route.

Busing services are unavailable to elementary students who live within a mile of their schools middle school students who live within 1.5 mile of their school as well as high school students who live within 2 miles of their school, but the could change during the coldest months.

A winter bus route would mean those students who might otherwise walk to school, wouldn’t have to worry about walking in extreme cold. Cary told the board he’s already heard from parents concerned about the upcoming winter.

“I received a phone call today from a parent talking about a high school-aged child. They weren't so concerned about right now, but they just said come the winter months, they’re concerned because we can get some cold months,” Cary said.

Last fall, the board heard also from other parents worried about their students spending too much time in dangerously cold temperatures while walking to school.

The potential winter bus route Bryne and Cary discussed would likely start in December and running into March or April.

If a winter bus route is implemented, Cary said it would primarily serve students in grades 5-9 as older high school students tend to drive themselves or get a ride with a friend. Buses already pick up elementary students in the areas that the proposed winter bus route would run through.

That leaves 100-150 potential students who might use a winter bus route.

Under the current contract year, each bus route costs $297 a day, including morning and afternoon runs. The overall cost of implementing a winter bus route, Cary said, would be $297 multiplied by the number of days the bus ran, or approximately $16,900, assuming the route only needs one bus.

In recent years, however, Bryne said ridership has increased on buses that transport students to and from schools in the Cloquet district.

“My buses are full and this is before the cold season,” Bryne said. “All my drivers have come to me and said, ‘I have no more room on my bus in the morning.’”

Board member Gary “Hawk” Huard urged Cary to look into the costs of busing students who open enroll from other school districts before any final decisions regarding a winter bus route are made.

“If this is about money, we should probably have those figures before we make any decisions on this, because that might be a little spendy for the school district,” Huard said.

Since students who open-enroll in the district bring state aid that includes money set aside for transportation purposes, Cary said that with the help of Cloquet Transit, he would compare the costs of sending buses outside the district to the transportation revenue open-enrolled students bring in.

Board member David Battaglia made the motion to direct Cary to move forward with the planning in order to give the winter bus route a try.

“Why not make the offer,” Battaglia said. “There were some complaints last year when we didn’t offer it.”