LYNNWOOD, Wash. - Andrew Adams used to ride a yellow bus to school.
This year, if he wants to join his classmates at Hilltop Elementary, the 7-year-old must walk a half-mile up and down hills, by a 7-Eleven store, along busy Lynnwood roads - some with no sidewalks.
He is among the 3,000 students in the Edmonds School District whose bus routes were eliminated over the summer to save the district $500,000 a year.
Bus service was cut to all children who live within a mile radius of their school. Some of those kids, including Andrew, must walk farther than a mile because roads don't provide a direct route from home to school.
As school started last week, families scrambled to figure out how to get their children to school safely. Some studied maps on the district's Web site and found walking routes with which they were comfortable. Some drove their kids to school or to nearby bus stops. Some hired child care workers to get their kids to class.
Andrew's parents, Dick and Jane Adams, decided to pull him out of public school and enroll him in an online, home school program. They had considered home schooling before, but say the busing situation pushed them over the edge.
"We had four kids go through Hilltop," said Dick Adams, a traffic engineer. "We like the school and enjoy the teachers. We wanted him to go there because some of his friends go there, but we don't want to deal with the safety issues. ... The roads he'd have to walk are very busy regional roadways."
Since the busing plan was announced in June, about 1,000 parents have called district headquarters to ask questions or complain, said Craig Christensen, director of transportation.
The district mailed several notices to parents over the summer, notifying them of the change, and automated calls went out to the 2,500 affected families, district spokeswoman DJ Jakala said. District employees followed up and personally called hundreds of parents to make sure they had plans in place to get their kids to school, she said.
"There's not one person in the school district who enjoys doing this - from the school board on down to my bus drivers," Christensen said. "It tears at our heartstrings, but we're in historic times. As a public servant, sometimes I have to make choices that just make me sick - and this is one of those situations."
Facing an $11.5 million budget shortfall, the school board voted in August on the busing changes and about 40 other cuts.
The state pays districts to bus students who live outside a 1-mile radius of their school. For years, the district had been spending local taxpayer money to fill in the gaps and transport kids who live less than a mile from school.
Several other local school districts, including Marysville, Everett and Seattle, don't bus kids who live within a mile of school, but those districts make exceptions for kids who live in areas where traffic is deemed unsafe.
State budget cuts and declining enrollment have led the Stanwood-Camano School District to reduce bus transportation for some students this year.
The district no longer picks up about 50 middle and high school students who live within a mile of schools where sidewalks and crosswalks are available. Secondary school students living on dead-end roads that are less than a mile long now must meet the bus at the main road.
Stanwood projects to save about $57,000 with the cuts.
"We will continue to provide transportation for elementary students with local funds," said Michael Olson, assistant superintendent of operations. "However, as costs for providing this service continue to rise, we may need to address this in future years."
In Edmonds, some parents see the need to cut bus routes.
Anne Nelson understands the district is in a tough spot financially, and doesn't mind driving 6-year-old Callie and 9-year-old Ryan to school. She didn't want her children walking along 164th Street, past a coffee kiosk with bikini baristas. Because she is a stay-at-home mom, she had the flexibility to shuttle her kids.
Her children's school, Martha Lake Elementary, is one of three that has eliminated busing altogether. Martha Lake's start and end times were pushed forward by a half-hour to help parents transition to the no busing policy, and Nelson appreciates that.
"I just try to look at it with a really positive attitude," she said. "You gotta do what you gotta do. If it was affecting my kids differently and I wasn't able to take them, I may feel very differently."
Leigh Hess does work outside the home and, for her, figuring out how to get her daughters to and from school was a headache. She lives across the street from the Adamses, and didn't want her girls walking along busy roads unsupervised. The plan she eventually worked out involves driving them to and from various friends' homes, so they can walk a shorter distance with people they know.
"I just can't randomly choose someone from their classrooms to trust with the lives of my children," Hess said.
To Dick Adams, the new busing plan is an accident waiting to happen.
He worked as a traffic engineer for the city of Lynnwood for 10 years, spent eight years with the state Department of Transportation and now works as a traffic engineer for a Seattle company.
He said the Edmonds School District used to run proposed walking routes by city and county officials, who would work to make sure the routes were safe. Sometimes they'd add sidewalks, or recommend that the district hire more crossing guards.
"The process is not a monthlong process," he said. "You need longer than that to make sure each of these walk routes are as safe as they can be."
Christensen said he wasn't able to follow the usual steps because of the severity of the district's budget problems and the need to make changes by the start of school.
"It's a fair observation from him, but these are historic times that the school district hasn't experienced in the past," he said. "So we've had to make those changes. And I'll be honest with you, we don't like it either."
Herald reporter Eric Stevick contributed to this story.