COVINGTON — Newton school system and school board officials are keeping a closer eye on students on board the buses to Ombudsman alternative school facilities on the Covington Bypass Road this semester.
After several discussions on what to do regarding extreme fights on board the buses, the Newton County Board of Education decided to limit the drop-off locations from three or four stops to one stop and closely monitor the situation.
Previously, transportation ran roundtrip for three Ombudsman sessions to three or four bus stops for about 40 students on average — the old Walmart location on U.S. Highway 278 that averaged zero to two students; a Jack Neely Road location that averaged 10 to 15 students; the Alcovy High School parking lot that averaged zero to two students; and Denny Dobbs Park that averaged one to five students. The stops are subject to change based on which students attend Ombudsman.
Fewer than 200 students in sixth through 12th grades were enrolled in the school last school year; other students are transported by their parents and more than 30 are on a special needs bus, according to school officials previously.
Recently, Newton County School System Deputy Superintendent Craig Lockhart presented the school board with several options, some that could save funding and others that could cost more money.
If all routes remained the same, the driver cost is nearly $24,000, and the bus cost for mileage is $90,000. With an added bus monitor, the cost would increase by $20,000.
To eliminate the Alcovy and Walmart stops, the savings would be nearly $27,000 in decreased driver salary and mileage. To eliminate the stop and add a bus monitor would still give a savings of nearly $11,000.
To eliminate all of the stops except for Jack Neely Road would save nearly $67,000, and to add a bus monitor in that scenario would still net a savings of nearly $50,000.
To discontinue the bus route altogether would save nearly $114,000; however, Lockhart mentioned that the system would not really save anything because a driver would be assigned to another service and other funds would likely be diverted to help offset other transportation issues. “You really don’t have a savings for this issue,” Lockhart said.
School officials have mentioned that many alternative schools don’t provide transportation, save for special needs students, and Lockhart added that Ombudsman staff prefer for parents to drop off the students to keep communication open.
“I think we should leave it alone,” said school board member Eddie Johnson. “Now … we want to pick and choose what students can do … and selecting who on an individual basis can receive transportation and who cannot. … We are micromanaging it.”
“I think we’re all trying to provide transportation, but do it the best way possible,” responded board member Shakila Henderson-Baker.
After discussions, the board decided not to hire a bus monitor yet, and instead receive monthly reports for the semester to see if a bus monitor would help the situation. Previously, school officials said law enforcement had to be called nearly daily to help in extreme situations on board the buses, even when students would be suspended from the bus for fighting.
“It’s a safety issue,” said school board member Almond Turner. “If you violate school policy, there should be consequences … the same as we do with our children at home. We’re giving them an option when they misbehave (at their home schools by allowing them to attend an alternative school) — some school systems don’t have alternative schools at all.”
School board Chair Abigail Coggin pointed out that technically, the decision about Ombudsman transportation is up to staff, since the board already approved a transportation budget, but NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey noted that the administration would like to hear the board’s opinion regarding the issue.
“We need to consider the safety of the students who are not fighting,” Fuhrey added.
Lockhart said collecting more data this semester will help drive the administration’s decision.