Zoning, cuts to school busing, seen as 'ideas'

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Marshall County School Board transportation committeemen test-drove some ideas at their meeting last week, but they arrived at no destination.

Drawing attendance zone lines for schools and reducing bus routes were considered as members of the school board come to grips with county funding issues.

"We need to get creative," Chairman Curt Denton said, explaining that he called the committee meeting to find ways the transportation department might cut the budget.

"Transportation is a privilege," Denton said, reminding the committee of a School Board policy that states, "Transportation for students living over one mile from the assigned school may be provided... Transportation for handicapped students will be provided."

"In desperate times, that's the first thing I'd look at," Denton said.

Education is the largest part of the county budget and former Schools Director Stan Curtis made a similar point about transportation being optional. It's not required.

"I'd be careful with that," cautioned committee member Barbara Kennedy.

Schools director Roy Dukes agreed.

"There are other issues like pedophiles," Dukes said. "You can't just turn kids loose."

Committeeman Randy Perryman concurred, adding: "It would put extreme difficulty on families if they have to take kids to school."

Shifting to another area of possible savings, Denton asked, "Would zoning help?

"I believe it would," Denton said answering his own question.

There are no attendance zones for county schools here.

"You'd have to have zone lines," Dukes said.

Perryman said, "I want to go on record that I'm against zoning."

The Edulog software that is supposed to help plan the most economical bus routes was criticized during committee discussion.

It's a "waste of time," Kennedy said. "We're the only county that has it (Edulog) and that doesn't zone."

Frey reported he's "spent time trying to progress with Edulog," adding, "I'm not spending more money on it."

Denton agreed with the point.

"I've said it from Day One," Denton said, getting specific. "It's a waste of $30,000."

Denton asked Frey if there were routes that could be consolidated, and the transportation supervisor replied that the department eliminated two buses this year: one in Chapel Hill; and one in Lewisburg, but "We are slammed."

Buses were particularly crowded between August and December, Frey continued, noting that Friday afternoon many more children rode the bus.

Responding to Denton, Frey said bus routes were already being made more efficient. Children in subdivisions and at apartment complexes were being grouped together for pickup, instead of buses stopping at every door.

"Maybe we need to do more," said Dukes.

Tuesday, Dukes was asked if he recalled another time when the county considered drawing attendance zone lines. He said he didn't. Still, he couldn't be sure the idea had been set aside.

"They may have talked about it years ago," Dukes said.

Still, there are some restrictions.

"The policy set forth is that the parent would have to make a request for a transfer and they would have to provide their own transportation," he explained. "And you can do it at the beginning of the year but not during the year."

That would interrupt the student's education, Dukes said in a telephone interview.

During the committee meeting, Frey pointed out that the camera system he wants for the buses are getting cheaper because new models use memory cards instead of discs. He also reported that one county had told him they had saved the cost of the cameras by using them to catch students cutting and defacing bus seats.

Students can't ride the bus again until they pay for the damage they did, as recorded on camera.

Later, in a telephone interview, Denton made clear that he was not advocating any of the cost-cutting measures - like zoning, but that they were issues that might come up again in the future, as the schools and the county try to solve their budget crisis.

"We're trying to do everything we can to save everybody's job," concluded Denton. "But the students come first."