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Newton BOE approves transportation change

Johnny Adams, a mechanic with the Newton County School System, looks for any electrical problems on a school bus in the transportation facility on Thursday morning. The Newton County Board of Education recently approved a plan that would save the department about $1.5 million by changing bus schedules and eliminating nearly 100 positions, including drivers and other transportation staff members.

Johnny Adams, a mechanic with the Newton County School System, looks for any electrical problems on a school bus in the transportation facility on Thursday morning. The Newton County Board of Education recently approved a plan that would save the department about $1.5 million by changing bus schedules and eliminating nearly 100 positions, including drivers and other transportation staff members.

COVINGTON -- The transportation department at the Newton County School System will undergo some major changes over the next year.

During its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Newton County Board of Education unanimously approved a plan that will alter the transportation system and eliminate nearly 100 positions in the department to save about $1.5 million. The plan, a three-tier pupil transportation system for next school year, was a recommendation from NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews.

The proposed plan will 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.

Under the current two-tier system, 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 school between 3:40 to 3:50 p.m. and high schools between 4 and 4:40 p.m.

School officials said there is no way to switch the new middle and high school times due to after-school programs and work study students at the high school level. Additionally, Mathews said the size of the work force will not allow for such.

"I wish we could," he said.

As a result, 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 employs 190 regular education drivers, 45 special needs drivers, 25 substitute drivers, 45 special needs monitors and six mechanics.

"We will deal with this from the standpoint of natural attrition and the district's reduction in force procedures as needed," said Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent of operations at NCSS.

He noted that once NCSS began to investigate this potential change, a hiring freeze on bus drivers and monitors was implemented, employing only substitutes as positions were vacated.

School officials said the new plan will give each school level its own buses, 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.

It also will set up four zones at each high school that transportation workers will manage in order to handle routing calls and address problems that currently are handled at the central office. Mathews said the increased pay of these workers already is figured into the savings.

System officials will spend the next several months developing new routes and schedules to allow for the changes.