School bus systems on solid ground here

HOOVER SCENARIO UNLIKELY...

Blount County bus mechanics Ron King (left) and Ladd Cox collaborate on a mechanical diagnosis.

Blount County bus mechanics Ron King (left) and Ladd Cox collaborate on a mechanical diagnosis.

Cutting to the chase, heads of school bus operations for both county school systems confirmed that bus operations are in no danger of being curtailed in Blount County or in Oneonta, as is currently being debated in the Hoover school system. Here’s what they said:

Eddie Phillips, supervisor – maintenance and transportation for the Blount County system: “Mr. (Supt. Jim) Carr and I talked about this just recently in light of the Hoover school bus situation. He said he couldn’t imagine how a rural school system could ever eliminate bus service. I agree with that 100 percent. He and (chief financial officer) Marcena (Bryson) have done a great job keeping us where we need to be to make up the state funding shortfall with local funds so we keep a safe student transportation program in place.” (State allocations cover only about 77 percent of the annual cost of operations of the system, Phillips said. The remaining 23 percent, amounting to about $1.1 million in 2012, must be made up from local funds.)

Scott Coefield, superintendent of the Oneonta system: “I don’t see in the future any suspension of the bus system for Oneonta schools. Remember though, there was a time several years ago when Oneonta did not provide buses. But unless the school board were to push me, it’s not on my drawing board. With the traffic congestion we already have, can you imagine what we’d have around the school if we had twice the number of parents delivering their children? Now, if the cost deficit to operate the buses doubles and gets up in the $100,000 range annually…”

He didn’t finish the sentence, but the implication was suggestive. For the last several years the system has operated at an average “loss” of about $40,000 a year (68,000 last year) – loss being defined as the amount of money that must be taken from local funds that could otherwise have been spent on classroom instruction – books, computers, other equipment, additional teachers, and so on. Coefield didn’t say so, but he left the distinct impression he’d definitely like to use all those local funds to support classrooms and teachers.

(Ed. According to both school system sources, the state Department of Education recom- mends a higher level of funding annually than schools actually receive, including funding to operate bus systems and replace buses after 10 years of service life. However, the Legislature, in recent years, when approving the education budget, typically appropriates money at only the 70-75 percent level of the funding requested.)

A tale of two bus systems Below are facts and figures profiling both local school bus systems, one small and one large.

Oneonta system (round numbers)
•Bus routes/buses/drivers: 10
•Spare buses: 4
•Size of operating area: about 15
square miles (city limits of Oneonta)
•Number of students served: 700
•Percent of students who are bus riders: 50 (half)
•Route miles driven daily/annually:
140/25,000 (estimate)
•Safety inspections: daily (drivers),
monthly (mechanic), annually (state certification) •Number of bus breakdowns on route
annually: fewer than 20 (estimate)
•Cost to replace bus, regular route bus:
$80,000+. Cost to replace bus, special

needs route bus: $100,000
•Number of buses replaced annually:
1 to 3, depending on age
•State allocation per bus: averages
about 75 percent of cost, using state
Department of Education allocation formula, discounted in recent years by
Legislative appropriation
•Bus maintenance operation:
•1 mechanic split between bus and
building maintenance
•1 supervisor with 50 percent of time
dedicated to bus operations
•1 secretary with 15 percent of time
dedicated to bus operations
• Some bus mechanic work done on
campus under an awning dedicated to
that purpose; small building being built to
replace awning; heavy mechanical work
contracted out to auto mechanic shop
•Annual cost to operate bus transportation program: $400,000 (salaries,
maintenance, parts, fuel, etc.)
•Overall annual school system budget:
$11 million
•Bus system cost as a percent of total
school system budget: 3.64
•Policy on parents boarding buses
while enroute to and from school: strictly prohibited. Parents should discuss any
bus issues with the principal at the
school office.

Blount County system (round numbers)
•104 bus routes/buses/drivers, plus 12
aides and five substitute drivers
•Spare buses: 36, including athletics
buses

•Size of operating area: roughly 640
square miles (within boundaries of
Blount County).
•Number of students served: 5300
•Percent of students who are bus riders: 63 (almost two-thirds)
•Route miles driven daily/annually:
6,200/1,112,480 (34,839 athletic team
miles; 17,798 band and field trip miles)
•Safety inspections: daily (drivers),
monthly (mechanic), annually (state certification) •Number of bus breakdowns on route
annually: 30
•Cost to replace bus, regular route bus:
$77,600. Cost to replace bus, special
needs route bus: $96,800
•Number of buses replaced annually:
varies from 6 to 20, depending on age
and renewal cycle; no buses replaced for
two years during proration/economic
downturn
•State allocation per bus: uniform
across school systems at about 75 percent
of cost, using state Department of Education allocation formula, discounted in
recent years by Legislative appropriation
•Bus maintenance operation:
•4 mechanics plus foreman
•1 supervisor, split between bus maintenance and system buildings maintenance
•2 administrative support personnel
•Mechanic work done in fullyequipped shop with lifts, multiple bays,
other tools and equipment
•Annual cost to operate bus transportation program: $4,837,000 (salaries,
maintenance, parts, fuel, etc.)

•Overall annual school system budget: $70 million

•Bus system cost as a percent of total school system budget: 6.9

•Policy on parents boarding buses while en route to and from school: strictly prohibited. Parents should discuss any bus issues with the principal at the school office.

Discussing the lengths to which the system goes to guarantee the safety of children, including repeated inspections and certifications of buses, drivers, and mechanics, Phillips summarized the system’s policy. “It’s all about the safety of the students we’re transporting,” he said. “That’s the reason for the emphasis on safety in everything we do. And it pays off. Statistics show school bus transportation is by far the safest mode of transportation available – safer than trains, planes, cars – in effect, safer than any other mode of transportation. We’re doing our best to keep it that way.”

Employees who keep the buses rolling for both county systems:

Blount County Supervisor: Eddie Phillips. Mechanics: Charley Chastain (foreman), Ladd Cox, Roy King, Mark Phillips, David Tucker. Office support: Katrina Holmes, Linda Tipton.

Oneonta Supervisor: Scott Coefield (Superintendant). Mechanic: Jared Samples. Office support: Stephanie Cole.