09/13/12 — School board talks buses

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School board talks buses

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 13, 2012 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education officially approved start times at four schools Monday night -- even though technicallythe district has been operating under the schedule since school started Aug. 27.

Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability-student services, said the change had been necessitated by the challenge of finding enough bus drivers.

Schools most affected were Spring Creek Elementary and High School and Carver Elementary and Mount Olive Middle schools.

The board wondered whether the time changes would be a short-term or permanent solution.

"We're revising these because of the bus driver situation but this is a temporary measure, is that my understanding?" asked board member Arnold Flowers.

"It's as temporary as you want to make it," McFadden replied.

Flowers said he has received calls from parents about the bus situation, with some elementary students not arriving home until after 6 p.m. the first day and others concerned about having to drop off children before the school doors opened.

Spring Creek High, for example, starts at 7:45 a.m. while the elementary school now starts at 8:30.

Dr. Steve Taylor, superintendent, said the decision was precipitated by the bus driver shortage.

"Our choices were limited and the tier system was the best alternative," he said.

"Are we off trying to hire bus drivers?" Flowers asked.

Board member Len Henderson asked whether Spring Creek Elementary would allow students to enter the building before 7:45, citing an example of a student at the high school who might possibly have to drop a younger sibling off at the elementary school.

Taylor said principals try to be accommodating and he has not received any complaints from parents to the contrary.

Board member Thelma Smith pointed out that the district's director of transportation, Raymond Smith, who is also her son, was in the back of the room and encouraged questions be directed to him.

The superintendent explained the importance of having a "set time" for schools to start and with the first day fast-approaching, a decision had to be made. Once sufficient bus drivers are found, that could certainly be changed, but for the sake of consistency, it might be better to leave it this way until the end of the school year, he said.

Based upon the number of calls received by his office, Taylor said, "parents seem to be accepting it."

"Dr. Taylor, I have received the calls. They have not accepted it," Flowers said, asking whether the matter could be brought back for a vote once bus drivers are hired.

"If we found 10 bus drivers tomorrow," Taylor said, after conferring with Raymond Smith about the number of drivers needed.

"I have people calling me specifically and I told them this is temporary until we can get drivers," Flowers said.

"Did you ask anyone before you told them that?" Mrs. Smith asked.

"Dr. Taylor," Flowers said.

Mrs. Smith, turning to the superintendent, said, "You told him that?"

Taylor said the district was faced with two choices -- a tier system or doing double runs.

Board member John Grantham said McFadden had explained it well and the board can always change it if necessary.

"Basically, we're already under this, it's not what we previously voted on," said board member Rick Pridgen. "So if we vote on it tonight, it can be temporary until we can get 10 bus drivers. But as it is now, they have been making the adjustment."

Mrs. Smith noted that compared to the transportation issues experienced by Wake County schools, the local situation is "minimal."

"There are some people that are not going to be satisfied," she said. "Mr. Smith, and I am not saying this because I know you, son, but I do think you have done the best you can without having drivers."

It's a challenge hiring drivers for only a few hours a day, and the district has made attempts to keep school opening and closing times the same, but that becomes expensive, McFadden said.

Beyond that, Smith said the criteria for hiring a bus driver can be even more stringent than that of a teacher because in addition to an impeccable driving record, it includes a criminal background check and several certifications.

"So when you find someone who meets all these criteria and all you have to offer them is two hours a day, it's very difficult to fill these roles," Smith said.

He recommended the district stay with the changes and revisit the issue again next year.

Flowers commended the way Smith has handled the situation.

"I have told people it's a temporary situation," he said. "If it's not going to be a temporary situation, basically I have told them something that's not true."

Pridgen made a motion to accept the revised times, which passed unanimously.

"Are you making it permanent?" Henderson asked.

"No, I didn't make that motion," Pridgen replied. "They are right now currently with what we have had to go to."

"But if we find bus drivers, we'll come back and revisit it," said Eddie Radford, board chairman.

Another bus driver's class starts Sept. 19 at 8 a.m. at central office, Smith added, for anyone interested in the training.