Will buses run on half-days?

Friday, October 31, 2008
School buses might not run on abbreviated school days.

School bus service on abbreviated days may or may not be available in Marshall County, according to conflicting announcements this week from the schools' central office.

"In an effort to alleviate the high cost of fuel, the ... Transportation Department will not provide bus service for students on abbreviated school days," Schools Director Stan Curtis said in a prepared announcement.

Curtis' announcement to local media went out early Wednesday afternoon.

"We're canceling that memo so we can revisit it," schools spokeswoman Rhonda Poole said at the 11th hour Thursday morning.

School system officials "decided to revisit this issue at a future date," according to the revised announcement that's apparently been a subject of discussion between officials.

Curtis was out of town Wednesday and Thursday at a conference for new administrators.

Members of the School Board's Transportation Committee "have discussed it," Poole said.

"When I sent the announcement out (Wednesday) ... then I guess that's when everybody started getting calls," the system's spokeswoman said.

"Some members didn't know the memo was going out," she said. Newly-elected School Board member Curt Denton, a former school bus driver, "is chairman of the Transportation Committee and he told me that we ought to let the public know."

Denton hadn't been elected to the School Board when system officials apparently discussed the idea of curtailing bus service.

"The board discussed this before the new members came on," Denton said mid-day Thursday. "I was under the impression that we had an abbreviated day before Thanksgiving, so I thought we ought to give the parents notification, but since we don't, it may be too early" to announce the prospect of no bus service on two days.

Three abbreviated days were scheduled for this school year.

Only two are left: Friday, Dec. 19, the last day before Christmas break, and Friday, May 22, the last day of school. The first half day was the first day of school.

About half the students who might normally ride a bus to school don't use the service when only half days are conducted, school bus driver Danny Redd said yesterday after parking the bus he drives for students at Cornersvile.

As for cost savings, Redd said, "Every little bit helps... They'll save some with the cost of fuel for 50-some buses..."

Denton declined to state costs without specific figures available during his lunch break Thursday.

"But with the budget crisis we're in, and the economy we're in," he said of savings: "Probably so. If we could save dollars, it's probably something we should look at. Times are changing and they're getting rough."

"We have a budget that we have to adhere to and sometimes we have to do some things to make it work," he continued. "We had to cut money from the fuel fund to balance the budget this year."

Meanwhile, School Board member Craig Michael was on Thursday morning searching minutes of school board meetings and work sessions looking for evidence of a decision to curtail bus service on two days.

"There's nothing in the minutes," he said. "It's going to be revisited by the board at its next meeting, on Nov. 13."

School Board meetings are the Central Office, 700 Jones Circle. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

Curtis' announcement was a surprise to teachers at the Central Office on Wednesday afternoon.

"I guess the kids will tell us about it tomorrow," Lewisburg Middle School teacher Kathy Stapleton said while she waited for teacher contract talks to resume under a court order.

Elimination of school bus service was an idea floated by school system leaders when they were, figuratively, running into a brick wall at County Commission Budget Committee meetings. Spending requests far exceeded the appropriations that Budget Committee members were willing to recommend.

Just as teachers were surprised, so were a couple of parents.

"Oh my gosh," exclaimed Karen Ellis of the Emporium on Lewisburg's public square, when told the Board of Education had announced that there would be no school buses on the abbreviated school days.

"Look at the parents who work," Ellis said. "How are they going to get their kids to school?

"This is getting ridiculous. They're cutting the transportation and they still expect the kids to go to school?"

Asked if her children go to school on abbreviated days, Ellis replied, "Oh yes. We want that perfect attendance."

Timothy Murdock's children go to Cornersville School.

"I don't know why they have abbreviated days anyway," Murdock said. "Why waste all that time and money? It's silly to run the buses."

He said "most parents" drive their children to school on the half days.