At its last meeting, the county commission's education committee heard a good report on the board of education's transportation and maintenance departments.
Commissioner Rocky Bowden told chairman Larry McKnight and commissioners Billy Spivey and Don Ledford that he had spent time with both Glen Ezell, transportation supervisor, and Sheldon Davis, maintenance supervisor.
"I made sure they (Ezell and Davis) understood that we're here to help; it's not us versus them," said Bowden. "That way we may head off any surprises at budget time. Glen and Sheldon worked hard with me."
Bowden told the committee that the county would be buying two new Thomas school buses this summer.
"Could you get by without buying any this year?" Bowden reported asking Ezell.
The answer was "yes, possibly," but Bowden warned that committee that the school system needs more that just the buses assigned to the routes. "Having a good fleet of extra buses is extremely important," he said.
"Spring sports are a special situation," he explained. "Marshall County High School, for instance, had four teams traveling to different places on one day, and a softball team can play 40 games, half of them away." Mostly, the sports teams have to leave before the buses get back from the afternoon routes, and the coaches drive the buses.
"Don't we have a board member who wants to eliminate coaches from driving buses?" Bowden asked.
"Yes," said Stan Curtis, director of schools, who was also there, "It has been brought up."
"In 34 years, I never remember a problem with coaches driving buses," said Bowden. "They go through the same training and drug testing as the regular drivers, and most of them drive for no charge. Spring sports don't generate enough revenue to pay for bus drivers."
"We're trying to rotate the buses on the routes to keep the mileage down," said Curtis. "If we keep those buses we were going to trade in we can use them for spring sports."
"Glen is putting his head to try and save money and operate as cheap as possible," said Bowden. "The big deal for him is investing in some new hand tools and diagnostic equipment. He thinks $6,000 will bet him where he wants to be, and he thinks the diagnostic equipment will pay for itself in a year or less." Without diagnostic equipment, the transportation department often cannot figure out why a bus has broken down, and has to spend $400 to have it towed to Dixie Diesel in Columbia.
Other money saving moves by Ezell include replacing the lights at the bus garage with T5 fluorescents that last longer and use electricity, and holding off on hiring a third mechanic until next year.
Sheldon is also looking at replacing some gymnasium lights with T5s, saying they will pay for themselves in energy savings in one year, Bowden reported. The committee got a list of maintenance projects the school system hopes to do.
"These are projects that badly need doing," said Bowden. "I'd like to see this committee work hard to help him achieve the financing to do them. We badly need to maintain these buildings, but they can only do what we give them money for."
The budget is looking "real good" according to Sheldon and he is also going to try to make it to the end of the year with two men instead of three.
One of the projects that needs to be done is the gym floor at Lewisburg Middle School. Bowden reported that it has been done two or three times since the school was built in 1963, so it can probably be taken down to bare wood and refinished one more time, at a cost of $17,000. It would cost about $100,000 to replace the gym floor.
LMS still has the original terrazzo flooring in the hallways.
"We pushed hard for terrazzo in the Forrest addition but couldn't get it done," said Bowden. "It would have lasted ten times as long. I pushed hard for geo-thermal, too. It was one of the last things taken out."
"We really are trying to cut in every little area," said Curtis. "It's not what I want to do, but we've got to do something."
To end the meeting, chairman McKnight forwarded a question from the parents of a band member: why do they have to pay to sell food at the concession stand, when Pee Wee football doesn't pay to do the same?
Curtis said he had "no clue," but promised to have a good answer for the education committee's next meeting.