Newton school board to vote on new transportation system

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education could decide next week whether or not the school system will alter its transportation program.

A three-tiered pupil transportation plan is up for vote on the school board's agenda this month.

The plan is part of a list of possible cuts that NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews proposed last month to help the system find about $9 million to cut from next school year's budget to make up for expected losses in local, state and federal revenues.

Mathews said the plan could save $1,477,441 and would eliminate middle and high school students riding the same bus, as they do now with the two-tiered system.

Currently, elementary students attend school from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with some students arriving at school by 7:15 a.m.; middle and high school students typically arrive between 7:45 and 8:25 a.m. to attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Combination bus routes depart middle schools between 3:40 to 3:50 p.m. and high schools between 4 and 4:40 p.m.

The NCSS transportation department currently employs 190 regular education drivers, 45 special needs drivers, 25 substitute drivers, 45 special needs monitors and six mechanics.

With the proposed three-tier system, elementary students would attend school from 7:40 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., high school from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. and middle school from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Elementary students could arrive at school by 7:15 a.m. and leave by bus at 2:20 p.m., high school students by 7:55 a.m. and depart by 3:25 p.m. and middle school students by 8:45 a.m. and leave by 4:25 p.m.

Dannie Reed with Operational Audits and Consulting Services of Loganville, said most drivers have three routes and some have two under the current system, so this service would eliminate the need for substitute bus drivers that are needed due to absent drivers or those who are running late from a previous route.

It might add one hour to a bus driver's current schedule, but would treat them more like full-time employees, instead of part-time workers like they basically are now, Reed said.

It also would line up with academic research that younger students learn better early, he said.

The new system would reduce the number of bus drivers by 44, and at a salary of $18,000 each, would save $792,000; reduce the need for all substitute bus drivers, and at pay of $7,200 per year each, would save $180,000; reduce fuel consumption at about $30 per day per bus to save $237,000; reduce fleet insurance at $600 per bus for a savings of $26,400 per year; reduce the need for one mechanic for a savings of about $40,000; and reduce the need for 27 bus monitors at a salary of $7,483 for a savings of $202,041, according to NCSS.

Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent at NCSS, said students with certain special needs would be provided with a bus monitor.

Additionally, reducing the fleet by 44 buses would save nearly $4 million in future bus replacement costs, given an estimated bus price of $90,000 per bus, school officials said.

In addition to giving each school level their own buses, the new plan is said to reduce ride time for middle and high school students, improve student discipline, provide adequate buses for sporting events and field trips and would reduce or eliminate the doubling up of buses for driver absenteeism or bus breakdowns, Reed said.

The plan also would create four transportation districts, including one for special needs students, for parents and staff to contact with any transportation issues using current staff members.

"You should have an operation that's seamless," Reed said. "You've got the tools -- we can make this happen."

The plan resulted from a system internal departmental efficiency transportation audit, which cost the district $9,322.50 and was conducted by OACS LLC. It included a review of local and state maintenance records, job descriptions, driver payroll processes, field trip processes and the NCSS driver manual and driver training procedures, according to Carpenter.

The school board is scheduled to meet for a work session Tuesday and its regular session meeting Feb. 15. Both meetings are set to begin at 7 p.m. in the board room at the Newton County Board of Education building, which is located at 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.

It the school board approves the plan, NCSS would use March through May to rebuild routes and develop the system, Carpenter said.