South Washington County, PHCA working on transportation options


Pine Harbor Christian Academy is hoping that dialog with the South Washington County Schools will lead to the district continuing to bus its students to the ISD 833 district boundary.
PHCA abuts the City of Cottage Grove’s River Oaks Golf Course but is located in the Hastings ISD #200 School District. South Washington County – ISD #833 – has bused students from Cottage Grove and other communities in ISD 833 to the boundary on which PHCA sits for over 40 years. In February, the district informed PHCA that as of the start of the 2024-25 school year, that will no longer happen. After many discussions and emails, ISD #833 informed Pine Harbor that it has paused a resolution to discounting bussing to the boundary and is going to work with PHCA officials toward a solution.
State Rep. Shane Hudella has worked to get South Washington County to change its decision.
“Just one year after school districts were told they would receive “historic” levels of state funding, it was maddening to learn that some local families are going to lose the opportunity to have a bus take their kids to and from school each day,” Hudella said. “Cottage Grove parents are understandably upset and are wondering why, after more than 40 years, the district is refusing to bring roughly 80 kids to Pine Harbor each day.”
Pine Harbor Principal Scott Urban said the announcement from ISD 833 was a shock for the school and parents. He’s hopeful a solution can be reached so the PHCA students that have been transported by South Washington County can rely on that service next year. The ISD #833 decision affects about 40 percent of PHCA students.
South Washington County has contended that since it buses to New Life Academy and because PHCA is in the Hastings School District it doesn’t need to provide the service, because there’s an alternative option for parents. Also, the district says it has a shortage of bus drivers.
Urban said that’s not how the statute reads.
“The statute says basically that transportation must be provided whether or not there’s another non-public school within the transporting district,” said Urban.
“Such transportation must be provided whether or not there is another nonpublic school within the transporting district, if the transportation is to schools maintaining grades or departments not maintained in the district or if the attendance of such children at school can more safely, economically, or conveniently be provided for by such means.”

Urban said that, economically speaking, PHCA and New Life Academy are very different schools. New Life tuition is $5,000-$6,000 more than it is at PHCA. “A lot of our parents could not afford that,” he said.
At New Life, also, families have to agree to adhere with their religious terms and conditions.
“At Pine Harbor, we let people know we’re a Christian school, but you don’t have to be a Christian to attend,” said Urban.
Urban said “he has offered South Washington County some options, such as shuttling the Pine Harbor students to and from New Life, altering the time they can allow student living in 833 to be dropped off earlier and altering the time at the end of the day for later pickup. Because PHCA is technically within the Hastings School District, its start time is controlled by the Hastings School District. So basically for the New Life option, we would just have one shuttle bus getting students to New Life and jumping on their bus routes,” he said. “They have been busing us for 40 years, and they need to continue to do the right thing.
Urban said "PHCA is open to options to make the transportation work for the students living in ISD 833 School boundaries. We all have different perspectives, and after a number of conversations and emails, ISD 833 has agreed to come back together to try to solve the transportation needs. There is some disagreement on the interpretation of the statutes; ISD 833 did not want to talk about the difference of our churches or the difference of the economics, which are listed in the statute. One thing we all agree on is that educating students is where we want to be focused on moving forward.”