06/20/13 — School busing plan unveiled

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School busing plan unveiled

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 20, 2013 1:46 PM

The transportation director for Wayne County Public Schools has a reorganization plan he believes will streamline bus scheduling and maintenance, but funding and timing may delay implementation in time for the next school year.

Raymond Smith laid out the plan during a 90-minute presentation to the school board's finance policy committee on Tuesday. The meeting had been rescheduled after he failed to show up for the original time on June 11.

The presentation was a response in part to the latest state report, released last month, that for the second year the district had poor bus inspection scores. Smith attributed part of the problem to high turnover among bus mechanics and the fact that the district's fleet -- which includes 205 yellow buses, 21 spares and 20 activity buses -- is spread out over the 31-school service area, creating a challenging maintenance schedule.

Smith said he modeled the reorganization plan after one currently being used in the central attendance area, based on a tiered system where schools in a region operate under staggered start and end times and share buses.

The tiered system entails several things -- establishing district lots affording mechanics more central locations to service and inspect buses; equipping buses with digital camera systems and GPS technology; and staggering school bell times to reduce number of buses required, overcrowding and student ride time.

Smith explained that when a cluster of schools shares buses it also makes better use of drivers.

"Increasing bus hours is very important because one of the things that drivers say when they choose to move on is they were not making enough hours," he said. "With buses housed at schools and that bus only serving one school, that bus driver is limited in what they can make."

The proposal also included a request to hire additional transportation safety assistants, to accommodate exceptional students riding the bus. Smith said candidates should also possess a commercial driver's license, CDL, to be able drive a bus. The position, he added, would be funded by the state.

He recommended hiring six of those in each of the five districts under the plan. At $12 an hour, that would come in at $259,200. Other costs associated with the proposed plan would include $87,500 for 250 communication radios, $9,000 for a communication equipment repeater, and $180 a year for the communication equipment tower.

The only costs he could not assess, he said, would be for the additional four bus lots, which would entail land acquisition and improvements, paving, fencing and lighting.

Committee members raised questions about some of the logistics attached to staggered school times and being able to meet the bus schedule, and the time required to approve and implement such a plan.

Board member Chris West advocated for a similar presentation to be made for all the principals, since it could potentially affect them the most.

Board member Thelma Smith agreed, but said the ultimate decision about the plan lies with the school board.

"What a lot of people don't understand, they just see yellow buses, they don't have a clue until they saw that we were flagged for mechanics not arising to the occasion. They don't know that we only have five mechanics in Wayne County Public Schools," she said.

She said she was concerned about the recent safety inspection report from the state and had anticipated that would be part of the session's discussion.

"I thought we were meeting to find out how to solve our mechanic problems and why the state of North Carolina has seen fit to say that we didn't do our job this year where two or three years ago we were one of the highest in the state," she said. "I just want us to make sure that we have addressed that problem in your presentation."

"Mrs. Smith, this meeting was not for that purpose," replied Smith. "This meeting was for the purpose of the proposal."

Raymond Smith said he plans to address that issue at a later date.

Board member Rick Pridgen asked whether there was time to accomplish everything require in the proposal by the time school resumes in August. Smith said he was optimistic, but noted that it typically takes the bulk of the summer months to input data on the estimated 11,000 students who ride a school bus each day.

"Transportation is really a moving target," he said. "Parents move all the time. When you go to design a particular system, we need as much leeway as possible to make all of these adjustments."

Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent, said time may not be on their side. He said the July 1 board meeting is when the board votes on start and release times and with feasibility studies and other logistics to be worked out, it is doubtful everything would be in place by fall.

Smith said even if the three-tiered notion is delayed, at the very least he would like to see the hiring of transportation safety assistants.

John Grantham, who as board chairman serves on no committees, was asked about potential conflict of interest with Mrs. Smith discussing any matters involving Raymond Smith, who is also her son.

"I guess if it was some kind of hearing, it would be something you'd want to recuse yourself from, but as far as the day-to-day, it's a little bit different than normal situations because our committees don't have any authority to vote," he said Tuesday evening. "They have to make a recommendation to the board.

"And I do know whenever we look at personnel issues, we have had other board members with kids and grandkids in the school system and they didn't get any special treatment because of that. In fact, they get less treatment because the board members don't want to look like they're giving special treatment."

Grantham said he did not feel the situation would sway the board or its decisions.

"As a board we're not going to show any favoritism based on nepotism," he said. "If it was some kind of hearing, like we have a committee that does hearings on personnel, we would have to change up."