Jan Jordan stands at the end of her driveway in Poland, where she operates a home day care. She requested that a “slow children” or “bus stop” sign be installed along Route 11 to slow traffic. School officials agreed, a flashing sign was ordered and she was told she’d have to pay $13,000. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

POLAND —  Jan Jordan had been complaining for years about the public road in front of her day care.

Drivers go too fast on Route 11. They careen around the bend. They don’t see the school bus that’s stopped to pick up her kids until it’s almost too late.

Last winter, she tried again.

“We had an incident in November that was a near miss with a very large truck. It was traumatic for the bus driver, and some of the kids, too, and ourselves,” she said. “Being the advocate that I am, I went to (Regional School Unit 16) again and asked for better signage.”

The Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls school system had new administrators. After a consultation with the Maine Department of Transportation this past winter, they agreed: The road was too dangerous.

So dangerous that the school system immediately shut down the bus stop in front of Jordan’s home day care, where nine students got a ride to elementary school. The school system ordered a special flashing “school bus stopped ahead” sign and planned to reopen the bus stop once the safety sign was in place.

A couple of weeks ago, school officials told Jordan she’d have to pay $13,000 for the sign and its installation.

No deal, no sign.

No sign, no bus stop. Not unless the road can be made safe in some other way.

“I am crushed,” said Jordan, who has owned Little Hands Childcare for 30 years. “I am frustrated. It’s like I’m going to have to give this (day care) up because I can’t come up with thousands of dollars.”

Jordan said she asked for months who was going to pay for the sign and was either ignored or told “don’t worry about it.” She said she doesn’t have $13,000.

RSU 16 Superintendent Kenneth Healey said Jordan always knew she’d have to pay for the road sign.

“She was in a panic that somehow the business would have to close down,” Healey said. “I said if we can find a solution, I said, don’t worry about the payment, we’ll take care of that and get it resolved and then we’ll settle with how to have the payment done. What I was trying to do was reassure her that it wouldn’t be a matter of whether she had the money or not, we would front the money, solve the problem so the bus stop could continue.”

He said he sympathizes with Jordan, but he doesn’t want to take $13,000 out of the school system budget and ask taxpayers to foot the bill.

“Maybe if it was my personal money, I would easily say, ‘Yeah, this is well-worth it,'” Healey said. “But it’s not my personal money. This is money that’s been given to me to operate the educational program and not to ensure a child care or a for-profit business stays open.”

With just about six weeks left until the start of the new school year, the two sides are trying to figure out where to go from here.

“I am really feeling beaten down with this and am not sure how to fix it,” Jordan said. “I am very concerned about how we will be transporting in the fall.”

Jordan has lived at 937 Bakerstown Road, also known as Route 11, for 33 years and has had a bus stop there for about 30 years. Her day care, well-known in the area, is licensed for 12 children. Last school year, nine were RSU 16 students.

Jordan was glad last winter when RSU 16’s new transportation director took her complaints about the road seriously.

“Be careful what you ask for sometimes,” she said. “But it needed to be done. He did what no other person had done and went full-force.”

At the school system’s request, the Maine DOT evaluated the area and agreed there were safety concerns, largely because of the grade of the road and the commercial trucks that travel that section of Route 11. The DOT’s traffic engineer recommended the bus stop be deemed unsafe and moved. If the bus stop couldn’t be moved, the engineer recommended the school system install a flashing sign that would warn drivers when a school bus was stopped.

Although Route 11 is a state road, the MDOT said the state is not responsible for school bus signs because towns and school systems control bus stops and those stops frequently change.

“It was relayed to the town/school district by the region traffic engineer that MaineDOT is not responsible for the cost of these signs, but that this responsibility lies with the town/school district,” MDOT spokeswoman Meghan Russo said.

School officials shut down the bus stop right after the engineer’s recommendation in January.

Jordan’s students could have used another bus stop down the road, but both sides say busy Route 11 isn’t safe for young children to walk along, even chaperoned. Jordan couldn’t drive them to that stop, or to school, because all of the children couldn’t fit in her car.

The school system agreed to provide a mini bus that was small enough to access Jordan’s driveway. Because they had to wait until a driver was available every day, students weren’t dropped off until after school started in the morning. Afternoons, Jordan said, she went to the school and stayed with her kids until the bus could pick them up after everyone else and drop them off at her day care. When Jordan’s husband couldn’t stay with the younger children at day care those afternoons, she hired a helper.

Both Jordan and school system officials agreed a sign was the better, more permanent solution. The solar-powered sign went out to bid. It will cost $13,000 installed.

“The solution, of course, becomes the real problem,” Healey said. “Who pays for that?”

A couple of weeks ago, Jordan learned from school officials that the sign was ready and awaiting installation. She said it was the first time she learned it would cost $13,000 and the first time she heard she would have to pay for it.

Healey said the situation might be different if the bus stop were needed for a family rather than a day care.

“If it was an individual, I would be more inclined to try to find a way to help finance it with them, but it’s a for-profit business and I don’t think that’s what the taxpayers’ money should be going to,” Healey said.

He also worries about setting a precedent.

“I’m empathetic. I know we need child care providers,” he said. “But I also don’t believe that I have the financial wherewithal with the taxpayers’ money to start putting $13,000 lighted signs all over the place so everybody can have their own bus stop,” Healey said. “I promise you, there’s a Facebook thread where people said, ‘If you get that, I want my own too.’ That’s my concern.”

Healey has offered to set up a payment plan if Jordan will agree to pay $1,000 a year for 13 years. It’s an option she’s considering, though she’s not sure she can afford that, either.

“My profession does not pay a lot,” she said. “Anyone doing this job does it for the love of children, not for the money. And that if you average it out after expenses are paid out, we only make about $6 an hour. Hardly enough to make an added payment of $1,000 a year.”

Another option would be to create a better, longer line of sight by clearing vegetation along a neighboring property.  Jordan’s father-in-law owns that land and she said he’s agreed to allow the changes if they’re feasible. She said they are waiting to learn from RSU 16 officials about exactly how much needs to be cleared.

“I am hoping it isn’t as costly as the sign and that we can get this figured out and how to get it done before school starts, so the children can be safe getting to and from school,” Jordan said.

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