While not on the formal agenda, transportation issues came to the forefront of the Ben Franklin High School board meeting on August 16. Board members listened to members in attendance from the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association, known as VAYLA, and addressed their concerns about bus service.

VAYLA is representing a number of Ben Franklin students that reside in New Orleans East. The group said students and parents are unhappy with the city bus options servicing the commute to and from the school’s lakefront location.

VAYLA first brought its complaints to the board at its May meeting, in the form of a protest outside of the school that hoped to gain a hearing on their issues during the meeting. At that time the board promised to work with the group to find a solution, but said time and research were needed.

Board member Gary Ostroske said the board spoke with the Regional Transit Authority to look at the existing routes in New Orleans East, and to assess possible adjustments to better accommodate students. Maps were handed out marking the location of student’s homes in the neighborhood.

Ostroske said a special committee would be scheduled to work with parents on their transportation concerns and noted that having “measurable facts,” such as the student map, would assist the process.

Tu Hoang, Education Equity Organizer for VAYLA, thanked the board for their efforts and introduced the group’s new parent leaders.

Hoang also introduced the mother of a new student who has had problems with the school’s bus token program. The parent wanted to know why the tokens do not cover transfers on bus routes, even though the school’s charter guarantees transportation for students.

Principal Timothy Rusnak, along with the board, said they were unaware of the problem, and agreed it should be addressed. Board member Susan Weeks advised concerned parents to talk with school administrators, since the board plays more of an “oversight role, and cannot handle a technical issue like this.”

“We do understand this is a real issue though,” Weeks said.

Assistant Principal Robin Morris informed VAYLA about when and where parent association meetings are held, and also explained the free after-school program for students who need to stay late.  Contact information was exchanged, and Hoang once again thanked the board for “working hand-in-hand” with the group.

In his principal’s report, Rusnak briefed the board on improvements being made to the school as part of an $898,000 FEMA grant.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise working with them (FEMA). We have weekly meetings where we tell them what we need and they give us a time frame,” Rusnak said.

The board’s current relationship with the federal agency is an improvement from the project’s planning stages, when the board said there was little-to-no communication with the school on plans or timetables.

Rusnak did express unhappiness, however, that the school’s parking lots were not included in the list of improvements paid for by FEMA.

“I’ve been trying to make this case for two years and no one will listen. All the other roads in this area are included in FEMA’s Submerged Roads Program, but not our lots,” Rusnak said.

At the end of the meeting, the board entered into a 45-minute executive session to discuss evaluation of Principal/CEO Rusnak.

Board members present were Collette Creppell, Carl Indest, Mark Mayer, Gary Ostroske, Susan Weeks and John Williams.

Ben Franklin’s next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 20 at 4 p.m.