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Long bus rides for students bothers school board

Posted: September 24, 2010 8:47 a.m.
Updated: September 24, 2010 8:45 a.m.

Members of the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees expressed their discontent Tuesday with extremely early morning school bus pickup times. Some school bus pickup times begin as early as 5:10 a.m. in Kershaw County.

“This is what angers me, a kid sitting on the bus at 5:10 a.m., in a wheelchair, until 7:50 a.m.,” said Trustee Mara Horton Jones. “Or you have a kid that’s taken their medication, and by the time they get to school, they’re exhausted.”

“And, in the afternoon, they’re soaking wet because they’ve got no air,” Trustee Jim Smith added. “It’s not a good thing, but we’re working and tweaking it as best as we can.”

The dissatisfaction was expressed following a presentation on Kershaw County School District (KCSD) bus times by Director of Operations Billy Smith during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“In the North Central area, we’ve got six or seven buses that are over two hours,” Smith said, adding that the S.C. Department of Education (SCDOE) said in 2005 that bus ride times under one hour were ideal. “But to do that in Kershaw County back in 2005, we would have had to have added 17 66-passenger buses, seven 36-passenger (buses), seven new assistants and 24 new drivers at a cost to the district ... of just under a half million dollars. And we would have to do that every seven to 10 years.”

Smith said lengthy bus times could be attributed to the largest buses having a capacity of 78 passengers and the smallest buses having a capacity of 60 passengers.

“You take one minute at each stop, that’s an hour right there. So to get under an hour, you really get away from what the buses are being made for because of the capacity they have,” he said. “When you get to the North Central area, the stops are much further apart and you don’t have neighborhoods like you do in the urban areas. You might have 50 kids on a rural route ... and usually only one kid gets off because they’re so far apart.”

Smith said eight potential bus drivers are in training right now, which may shorten a lot of the lengthy bus routes.

“In North Central, you’ll see there’s a lot of buses right now with times way over an hour. We’ve got three drivers missing in the North Central area and two full-time assistants ... which means those three buses are not being double routed, they’re doing an extended route,” Smith said. “We’re taking those kids on those three buses and splitting them up on about seven or eight other buses and adding them to that route.”

On Thursday morning, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said SCDOE owns the school district’s entire bus fleet.
So, in addition to controlling the location of bus stops and repairs, DOE also controls the number of buses the school district receives.

Because of that, Morgan added, bus time lengths are related to the number of buses assigned to the school district. If the school district would like to add additional buses or routes, they would be subject to a fee.

In other news, the board received an update on SAT/ACT scores. KCSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Agnes Slayman told the board that Kershaw County seniors’ average SAT composite score increased 17 points, outperforming the state’s composite score and tying for the 21st highest score among state school districts.

“These test results prove that our principals and our teachers are still being very vigilant. And I personally want to thank the three high school principals and all of the high school teachers who have worked so hard to make such great gains. It says a lot,” Trustee Kim Horton DuRant said on Wednesday morning. “Kudos to the principals and teachers who are going the extra mile. And I appreciate all of the effort they’re doing in spite of the economic woes that we’ve faced.”

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