A boy on the family tractor vividly illustrates funding problems at Lake Local schools
SOME will call it a publicity stunt. Others will say public safety was compromised. Both may be right. But without question, nothing brought home the funding crisis which has befallen Lake Local schools quite like Mark Wasserman's John Deere.
Bus transportation was eliminated altogether for students at the high school following the rejection in February of a levy and income tax proposal for Lake schools, and all other students who live within two miles of their school now must find their own transportation as well.
Young Wasserman, barely a teenager at 13, lives just a mile and a half from Lake Middle School, where he's an eighth grader. So Mark, with the blessing and instructions of his father, drove himself to school on the family tractor.
Most folks' first reaction is probably to recoil at the idea. Adolescents, after all, can't drive a car in Ohio until they are 16 and only then after undergoing mandatory instruction. But no such law governs the operation of farm equipment, even on public roads. A child, even a 13-year-old or younger, can drive a tractor off the farm if he or she obeys all traffic laws and travels no faster than 25 mph, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol.
Before the boy's father comes in for too much abuse, consider his situation. He's a single parent who works through the night, tends to his farm animals before dawn, and then goes to bed. He considers his son extremely conscientious and experienced at the wheel of the tractor and would not have allowed him to drive it to school if he were not.
And walking to school, particularly along a busy highway, is not an appealing alternative - for Mark or any of the other Lake students who now must find their own way to school each day.
Lake High School, Lake Middle School, and Lake Elementary School are all on Lemoyne Road near State Rt. 795, a divided highway with traffic lights. The district also includes Walbridge Elementary, located in the village of Walbridge.
Sidewalks are virtually nonexistent in the district. As a result, bus transportation is crucial to ensure that students arrive at school safely. But operating buses costs money, which is in short supply for Lake Local now that many residents have abandoned support of their schools. A property tax levy failed in August; residents turned down an income tax in November, even after a petition drive was mounted to save the high school football season, and a combination income tax/property levy failed in February.
Lake Local parents have a right to be concerned about their children's safety, but they also cannot be surprised that busing would be eliminated to keep the district's doors open. Neither should they be aghast that a parent with an inflexible work schedule might send his child to school on a tractor.
People do what they have to do. That principle applies not just to harried parents but also to school districts whose residents refuse to provide a reasonable level of tax support. There is no free lunch in school funding, and no free pupil transportation either.