Board debates bus stops

Friday, October 17, 2008

Glenn Ezell, supervisor of transportation for the Marshall County school system, gave the school board's transportation committee plenty to think over when he met with them on Tuesday.

The school bus garage is already keeping track of fuel used per bus per month on a spreadsheet, and the committee members will be kept up-dated with these figures.

As for cutting costs, Ezell agreed that creating bus stops where groups of children could be picked up would "work really good," especially in town. Fewer stops would definitely save time, fuel, and wear-and-tear on brakes. Shelters, however, would be needed for the children to wait under on rainy days to prevent them from spending the school day soaking wet.

Ezell thought that a lot of kids would start walking to school rather than wait around at town bus stops. Chairman Curt Denton said he thought there was a mileage limit in the board of education's policies, and Ezell agreed, saying, "Twenty years ago, we enforced the limit and people (close to school) had to walk."

"We need to enforce policy," said Dr. Stan Curtis.

In fact, the board of education's policy states, "Transportation for students living over one mile from the assigned school may be provided. Transportation may be provided for students living less than one mile from assigned school for safety or other reasons." Handicapped students are the only ones for whom policy states that transportation "will be provided."

Ezell keeps a close eye on student numbers and says they have gone down, especially on some routes. He says 70 children have moved into Lewisdale Trailer Park since school started and he attributes this to people losing their homes in these economic hard times.

The problem of finding bus drivers for sports and other trips was discussed. Lots of the drivers don't want to do trips at night, so it's hard to equalize the hours and avoid paying time-and-a-half to drivers who go over 40 hours a week.

"It's a nightmare trying to cover all those trips," admitted Ezell.

In Maury County, Curtis said that a lot of coaches have their bus-driving licenses and drive the sports teams, but Denton does not consider that a valid option. He points out that bus driving requires adjustment to the longer stopping distances and different handling quality, and a person who does not get constant practice is not going to be as safe a driver.

The discussion moved on to wants and needs at the school bus garage. Ezell said he and his staff of three need new and better tools, plus lockable tool chests to keep them in, and a lockable area to keep the chests in. Committee member Craig Michael asked if they had an inventory of current tools and Ezell said, "No." Michael and Denton encouraged Ezell to make an inventory, and then request the tools that were needed to fill in the gaps.

One of the items wanted for the bus garage is a diagnostic system. The software costs about $1,800 and they'd need a laptop to run it on, but it is generally thought that it would "pay for itself" in time and money saved.

Another money-saver would be a system to recycle anti-freeze. Ezell is still checking these out, but they seem to cost about $2,400. There's even a possibility of sharing it with the Highway Department.

Other big-ticket items the school bus garage needs are a MIG welder and a crane.

"They need some money, too," said Ezell. "They're not paid enough for what they do."

"The key to increasing any compensation is to increase efficiency," said Michael, adding, "We've got to find a way to reduce spending to find money for our people."

"If we save, we can invest that back into the school system; that's a great incentive. It's called 'ownership' and everybody benefits," said Curtis.

The committee agreed that their goal was to cut 10 to 15 percent off the $1.5 million transport budget, and with more facts and figures available to work with, they may be able to accomplish it.