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European edition, Wednesday, August 22, 2007

STUTTGART, Germany — Amanda Munoz was angry to learn that her 6-year-old son, Dominik, was going to have to ride the bus 90 minutes each way to school.

She’d chosen a home in the Stuttgart area that was convenient to both her job and Dominik’s school. Or so she’d thought. But the school-zone boundaries were changed last week, and the news was dropped on parents 12 days before classes were to begin.

After being chastised by parents at a town-hall meeting last Wednesday, school and garrison officials came back on Monday to another town-hall meeting with a new plan, one that seemed to satisfy most of the complainants.

Now, like dozens of children, Dominik will be spared the long daily commute to Robinson Elementary-Middle School. He will instead attend the much-closer Patch Elementary School.

“As a family, that (Robinson) was not an option,” Amanda Munoz said. “We were going to have to enroll (Dominik) in the German school system. Now that he’s going to Patch, it’s more convenient.”

The revised plan calls for elementary school students to attend school either at Patch school or Böblingen Elementary-Middle School on Panzer Casern. Both installations are on the south side of Stuttgart, where most of the military community is centered.

On the flip side, about 23 students in grades six through eight will have to take the long daily bus ride to and from Robinson school at Robinson Barracks on the north side of the city.

One father who attended Monday night’s town-hall meeting at the Patch Theater told officials that his daughter, a sixth-grader, was “distraught” at having to start middle school so far away from home.

Another wondered if there was some way that the 23 students could be squeezed into the nearby Böblingen school and thus spared the hour-or-longer commute. Answer: No.

The priority of the new plan was to spare the youngest students from having to make the longest commute, according to Mike Thompson, superintendent of the Bavaria School District, and Col. Richard M. Pastore Jr., who one month ago took over as commander of Army Garrison Stuttgart.

Plans were also announced Monday that additions were being built this year to the Böblingen and Patch schools, and that they would be ready for next school year.

An hour into the meeting last Wednesday, at which the controversial plans were presented, Pastore stepped in and told the angry mob of parents that officials would go back to the drawing board to find a better plan. The plans were announced via e-mail on Friday.

During the meeting on Monday, Pastore said planners were trying to keep bus routes to 60 to 65 minutes at most.

Parents who had driven the routes in their cars were skeptical, especially considering Stuttgart’s infamous traffic problems, as well as with decreasing daylight and winter snowfall.

“If they need to make adjustments to shorten these times, they will do everything they can to do so,” Pastore said. “I’m not going to turn away from this issue once the buses start running this year.”

Christy Kirby, who moved to Stuttgart in November, was miffed to learn her kindergartner, Connor, had been slotted for Robinson. She lives near Weil der Stadt, and was ready to homeschool her son instead of sticking him on the cross-city bus.

“I have mixed feelings,” Kirby said. “I’m happy my son is not going all the way out to (Robinson). But I’m disappointed it came to this point and that it wasn’t done in the springtime.”

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