06/17/09 — Duplin school board looks to park buses

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Duplin school board looks to park buses

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on June 17, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County school buses could be crowded during the 2009-10 school year, classes may start at the same time for all the high schools and prices will be going up for students who buy their breakfast or lunch in the cafeteria.

The Duplin Board of Education learned Tuesday that the school system may have to leave some of its 128 in-service buses in the parking lot just to keep the others running. The state will cut 7 percent of the transportation allotment, and may cut up to 15 percent.

"They're going to have to park some buses and put more kids on some buses," said James Mullins, human resources director for Duplin County Schools.

To compensate for the funding reduction, the school system will have to cut an estimated 688 miles of travel per day. Mullins warned the board members they may be getting some phone calls from parents wanting to know why buses are more crowded.

The cut could also mean that some transportation staff will lose their jobs.

"We're going to have to look at a position cut," Mullins said.

To make matters worse, some of the buses are already in need of maintenance. Three of the 15 reserve buses need new tires, and several need oil, Mullins said.

And although there has been no official word of it, the state could end up shifting liability for transportation to the schools themselves.

The funding concern could lead to an unexpected consequence. With potentially fewer buses running, the county high schools, which currently begin the school day at different times, could be asked to start classes at the same time to make allowance for the logistics involved with getting the same number of students to class by the first bell but having fewer buses with which to do so.

"You can't start (class) at 8:30 and get kids there," Mullins said.

In other business, the board members voted to raise lunch prices for students to help the lunch program attain a level of self-sufficiency. The program is currently facing a $150,000 to $200,000 deficit.

Prices for breakfast for students will be going up from 85 cents to $1, while the price for lunch will be going up from $1.25 in the elementary schools and $1.35 at the middle and high schools to a flat $1.75.

The price increase is the first such adjustment in Duplin County Schools in 10 years, according to school officials. The counties around Duplin already charge at least $1.75 for school lunch, and they are talking about increasing from that level, Mullins said.

"I think it's important we do things so it can sustain itself," he said.

If families have difficulty paying for their child's lunch, they can fill out the paperwork to receive free or reduced-price lunch.

"Those students are not being denied," he said.

The existing deficit is a combination of not charging enough for lunches and not always being paid for the lunches they provide. The rise in lunch prices would bring in about a $4,000 profit for the system, while the increase in the price of breakfast could bring in more money beyond that.

The board members voted to install an interim budget just to keep operations going while they work out a more permanent solution.

"We hope to be able to establish a budget by July," said Joann Hartley, Duplin County Schools finance officer.

There is no truth to the rumors that Duplin County Schools athletics coaching staff will not be paid, she said. Despite some confusion about the issue, coaches' pay schedule is the same as in previous years.