Superintendents across the state are charged with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of each and every student in their designated school system by developing school bus routes in accordance with state law, while doing so efficiently with the system’s finances.
The buses responsible for transporting the Clinton City Schools students are filling to capacity, creating a problem superintendent Dr. Stuart Blount presented to board members during a work session last week.
According to Blount, the bus fleet transports 1,509 bus riders on a daily bases across the roadways in the district. Many of those students are either out of district students or students who are being transported to after-school care, a job Blount said the district isn’t required to do.
State law requires a system to transport students to one location — their primary residence. With the system now facing an overcrowding issue on the buses, Blount said the board needs to make one of two decisions — spend money to purchase two new buses or eliminate the option to transport out of district students and those going to after-school care.
“For us to continue transporting these students,” Blount said, “we are hit with the job of purchasing two new buses.”
Board members were presented with a quote for the purchase of two new buses at a cost of $169,298. The monies would have to come from the system’s capital outlay budget and payments on the buses would be spread out over a three-year period.
Transporting students to locations other than their home, Blount said, has always been done as a courtesy because the space was available. Now, he added, the system has a problem and the buses are at risk for being overcrowded.
“Administrators are having to watch students getting on the buses everyday to make sure they aren’t overloaded,” Blount said. “When that happens, we will be forced to hold some students back and make a second load resulting in our students getting home later.”
According to Blount, there are currently 42 out of district students who ride a school bus. A total of 99 students ride a bus to some form of day care, not including at-home day cares.
The purchase of the buses isn’t the only expense the system will have to incur because of the overcrowding issue. In addition to the nearly $170,000 for the buses, the system will have to hire two additional drivers and fund the expense of fuel and maintenance on the buses.
“I’m not talking about eliminating the transportation of our Pre-K students, just the 99 who are either out of district or riding to an after-school care program,” Blount said.
The superintendent stated that he wanted to make it clear that he was handed the challenge of caring about all aspects of the school system and making sure the system was stable financially was one of those tasks.
“I don’t want anyone to think I don’t care about the children, because I do,” Blount said. “I just have to look at every situation from all standpoints. When we have other options that don’t cost the system as a whole, we have to look at those options.”
Funding the new buses wasn’t the only problem Blount presented last week to board members. The system is currently violating the board’s policy of transporting students to one location — their primary dwelling. The policy also states that students can be transported to other locations only if the request doesn’t cause the school system to incur any additional cost.
“I can’t purchase these two buses as the policy is currently written,” Blount said during a interview from his office earlier this week. “In order for me to purchase these buses, the board must adopt changes to the policy that allows me to transport students to other locations than their homes.”
Board members E.R. Mason, Georgina Zeng and Carol Worley made their opinions clear during last week’s work session, stating they could not eliminate any transportation for any students with a clear conscience. Board member Diane Viser said purchasing the two new buses was an expense the system didn’t need to take on at the current time.
“It’s not about not providing transportation,” Viser said. “It’s about making sure we don’t spend money when other options are available.”
Purchasing the two buses would eliminate a portion of the capital outlay funds that are slated to cover several projects over the next seven years. Included in those projects are new intercom systems at the schools, new fire alarm systems, replacement of heating and cooling system in the Sunset Avenue gym, outdoor track replacement at Clinton High School and roof replacements at several schools.
Board members voted to precede with the purchase of the two new buses and asked board attorney Nick Sojka to rewrite the board’s policy and make changes that will allow the board to transport students to locations other than their homes.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.