2011-11-24 / Local & State

So. Fulton Overhauls Bus Routes

Uses computer program to help plot out new routes
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Bus contractors waited patiently to the rear of Southern Fulton High School’s library last Tuesday evening while board members and administrators reviewed maps outlining the district’s current bus routes against a new proposal that would eliminate the need for one bus and reduce another contractor’s daily mileage by nearly half.

Having laid out $14,150 in the spring to purchase computer software known as “BusTrack,” the board was presented with its very first opportunity on November 15 to view the findings of the software that is designed to help reduce student time on the bus, route mileage and, of course, transportation expenditures.

In addition to BusTrack’s computerized layout, Superintendent Kendra Trail and assistant business manager and head of transportation Lori Bard reportedly put their “human touch” on the proposal by driving the routes; looking at dangerous turnaround and bus stops; and taking into consideration where each contractor lives.

Trail told the board putting aside major roadways, such as Buck Valley and Great Cove, some of the existing bus routes travel the same roads. Furthermore, the district has also seen student population numbers drop by approximately 100 students, leaving some to wonder whether a bus could be eliminated. In dividing 816 children by 72 seats, Trail noted the district should only need 11.33 busses.

Therefore, Bus 12 was proposed to the board for elimination. Superintendent Trail quickly pointed out longtime contractor Glenn Ward has indicated on several occasions he was interested in retiring and would therefore be the affected individual.

If approved, the proposed changes would get under way on July 1, 2012. The route alterations were previously shared with bus contractors, who were also asked for suggestions in this matter, Trail said.

One other consideration in devising these new routes included making students walk up to one-half mile to catch the bus depending on variables such as a student’s age. Board member Patrick Bard noted it would not be a popular decision to have kids in towns like Needmore picked up at their homes in comparison to students from a more rural setting walking one-half mile to the bus stop.

BusTrack representatives Dick Sinclair and Jim Butler were on hand for the meeting last Tuesday to delve into the issue of potential cost savings. Information shared by the BusTrack officials indicate that if the district approved the new routes, there would be approximately $59,000 in annual “comparable savings.“ However, when taking into account an 18 percent reimbursement rate to the school from the state, the real savings per year were only calculated at $10,620.

In allowing the contractors to speak under citizen’s participation, Ward questioned the new mileage for Bus 13 as well as taking a loaded bus over the mountain to pick up handful of children in the vicinity of Thorny Bush Lane.

As one of several contractors who stand to lose out financially, Kevin Mellott would see his mileage dropped from 118 miles to 64 miles. “You see how my mileage is getting cut. I’m being hit the hardest,” he told the board and administrators. “If this goes through, we’ll be cut $20,000 ... . It will devastate us.”

Fellow contractor Sheila Swope also spoke up and said she stood to lose around $20,000 between her two routes.

Even though several board members pointed out the routes should have been reviewed many years ago, especially in Crystal Spring where two routes are currently overlapping, there was still concern publicly expressed for Mellott.

Hearing that some board members wanted a possible reevaluation to determine if some mileage could be restored to Mellott’s route, board President Kenny Wuertenberg asked those on hand if they didn’t think of the consequences of “good people being hit” when they purchased BusTrack in April. Wuertenberg went on to say the board is “notorious” for flip-flopping on and delaying making decisions. This particular situation, he said, has been talked about and ignored for 10 years.

Board member Allen Morton said he was “sympathetic” to Mellott. However, Morton also stated had the district kept up with transportation in the past, the situation would not have progressed to this point.

“They (the contractors) knew they were driving over top of one another,” Morton later said.

“I do agree we needed this program. I thought this program would level the playing field for everyone financially even though we would be cutting miles,” Crouse commented. “I know we need to save money ... I just hope we’re looking at everything.”

“I think from my own perspective, I thought it would affect everyone more equally than one person so drastically,” chimed in board member Tim Mellott.

Jean Gregory, bus contractor, questioned if “longevity” or “seniority” means anything. “Kevin (Mellott) has been in the area a long time,” she added.

“Not one of you has done anything as a contractor or as a person to make us eliminate a route,” Wuertenberg assured the contractors.

Superintendent Trail concluded that she didn’t personally think the routes could be altered additionally after having run the routes several times and asking contractors for input. “I’m losing sleep over Kevin (Mellott) too. It’s just not fair,” said Trail.

After a prolonged discussion, on a motion by Crouse and Donald Whiteside, the board unanimously voted to approve the new routes effective July 1. On a follow up motion by Morton and Dwight Bard, the board agreed on a 9-0 roll-call vote to extend bus Route #12 through the conclusion of the current 2011-12 school year.

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