The Long County Board of Education voted, 3-2, last week to keep school bus routes as they are for now, even after parents lodged complaints about their children being picked up at odd times and being dropped off too late.
Deidra Westbury said her children are being picked up at 6 a.m. on what she calls a major highway. She thinks that’s too early and said many other parents share her opinion. She also said her children sometimes are on hot buses for as long as two hours after school before they arrive home. Due to the recently changed bus routes, high-school students no longer are on the buses that Westbury’s small children ride, which she dislikes because she said the older students acted like additional bus monitors and did not pick on the smaller kids.
Dora Morris told BoE members she agrees with all of Westbury’s points. Morris’ grandchildren ride buses to school, and she’s concerned about their safety because they no longer are picked up in front of their home. She said she doesn’t see how the new routes are more cost-effective for the school system. Both Westbury and Morris said the school system should go back to the old routes.
BoE Vice Chairwoman Florence Baggs said that child safety is the board’s No. 1 concern, and if she felt their safety was in jeopardy, she would do whatever was necessary to make changes. However, she said, safety has not been compromised, and the changes to the bus routes were necessary.
“Change is difficult. It is very hard … (but) we can’t continue to do things like we did. We have 3,000 students now,” Baggs said.
She told Westbury that some children are on buses for extended periods of time because of a driver shortage, but Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters said he’s in the process of hiring four more bus drivers, who will be available if a regular bus driver is out sick.
She also told Westbury that her children recently had been arriving home between 4:20 p.m. and 4:35 p.m., so it was apparent the trip home doesn’t take two hours. Regarding Westbury’s complaint about the absence of older students on the buses, Baggs said that most parents always had been unhappy about that arrangement and preferred for high-school and elementary-school students to be separated.
Waters said the school system ordered two new air-conditioned buses, gathered input on the new bus routes from a professional consultant and came up with what they believe are the most efficient routes possible. The goals were to reduce the amount of stops, avoid backed-up buses and make every effort to stay off private property for liability reasons. Waters said some buses do not have air conditioning, but every bus purchased since he became superintendent is equipped with A/C.
After a lengthy discussion, board member Marcus DeLoach made a motion that the new bus routes be amended to reflect this change: Buses can drive on private property as long as it’s safe, causes no back-ups and the property owners sign waivers relieving the school system of any liability.
Board member Julie Dawson seconded the motion. Chairwoman Janet Watford asked DeLoach whether he would withdraw his motion because it would create a situation where the buses would have to pick up too many students on private property. She reminded BoE members that the two new buses should arrive in October, so it would be prudent to hold off on such decisions until then. DeLoach wanted his motion to stand. DeLoach and board member Dr. Carolyn Williamson voted in favor of the changes, while Baggs, Watford and Dawson voted no. After DeLoach’s motion failed, Watford made a motion to revisit this issue once the new buses arrive. Baggs seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.
The board recognized its three teachers of the year and the system teacher of the year for the 2012-13 school year. Fletcher Johnson won at Smiley Elementary School; Beth Vandervort won at Walker Middle School; and Jeffrey Spratt won at Long County High School. Spratt also was recognized as the school system’s teacher of the year.
In other business, the BoE:
• Unanimously approved the school resource office and crossing guard agreement with the Long County Board of Commissioners, placing these employees under the scope of the sheriff’s office
• Unanimously approved the JBC awarding units and transferring credit policy
• Unanimously approved last year’s millage rate of 13.5 to remain the same for this year