Newton school board to vote on transportation change

Photo by John Davis

Photo by John Davis

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education will decide next week if it will alter the school system's transportation system in order to save nearly $1.5 million.

During the school board's monthly work session earlier this week, Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews recommended the implementation of a three-tier pupil transportation system for next school year.

"Implementation of this system will require a change to school start and finish times and other related changes," Mathews said in a memo to board members. "These changes will result in a decreased need for personnel, buses and fuel, which will provide a significant cost savings to the school 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 proposed plan would have elementary students 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 to school by 7:15 a.m. and leave by bus at 2:20 p.m., high school students by 7:55 a.m. and 3:25 p.m. and middle school students by 8:45 a.m. and 4:25 p.m., school officials said.

Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent for Operations at NCSS, said parents have expressed the most concern for the later middle school times, but even in the worst case, students would be picked up by bus about 25 minutes later than they are now.

If approved, the new system would reduce the number of bus drivers by 44 to save $792,000; reduce the need for all substitute bus drivers to 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 to save about $40,000; and reduce the need for 27 bus monitors to save $202,041, according to NCSS. Additionally, the fleet would be reduced by 44 buses to save nearly $4 million in future bus replacement costs.

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

In addition to giving each school level their own buses, the new plan is said to reduce ride times 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.

According to a recent stakeholder survey, 90 percent of a 40-person teachers forum agreed with the change, as did 87 percent of 24 councils, 93 percent of school PTO presidents and 66 percent of about 2,700 community members who took an online survey.

"There's some level of consensus," Carpenter said.

He said it is necessary for the school board to vote on this item this month in order for the system to have enough time to plan for new routes and schedules.

"We have a lot of gearing up to do," he said.

The school board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board room at the Newton County Board of Education building, which is located at 2109 Newton Drive N.E. in Covington.