Columbia County transportation shop forman Jay Dunham (left) mechanic Louis Frank check the fluid levels on one of the buses.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Columbia County students catching the bus to school may see a new driver behind the wheel.
More than 30 percent of the county's 187 bus drivers will navigate new routes and haul different students when school starts back on August 3.
"A significant number of drivers have been re-assigned to establish better efficiencies in the county system," Columbia County Schools Director of Transportation Jim Sharpe said. "In other words, (we're) putting the drivers in locations where the buses will be parked."
Some drivers take their buses home, some leave them at the school system's bus depot on Columbia Road, and others park them overnight at elementary schools, Sharpe said.
Many factors determined the route that bus drivers were assigned to, including where drivers keep the buses, Sharpe said.
"The proximity of that bus location at the end of the day's event would drive what schools those buses would support," he said.
Familiarizing bus drivers with certain neighborhoods also was considered.
"If children live in a particular neighborhood, would it not be better to have the same driver pick up all three levels of schooling in that same neighborhood, based on where that bus was parked?" Sharpe asked.
Some parents said no.
A group of parents from the Windmill Plantation subdivision confronted Schools Superintendent Tommy Price about the route changes following a millage rate rollback hearing last week at Greenbrier High School.
The parents asked Price to return a re-assigned bus driver, Cheryl Tate, who delivered their children to and from school last year.
"We have a relationship with our bus driver," parent Michele Singletary said. "We don't care about air-conditioning. We care about the safety of our kids."
The school system recently retrofitted several busses with air-conditioning. Those busses were distributed evenly throughout the county and made little difference in the route changes, Sharpe said.
Price agreed with Sharpe about making the system more efficient.
"We had a driver coming from Harlem everyday to take students to Riverside (Elementary and Middle schools in Evans)," Price told the parents. "We had to find a better way."
Price, however, promised to investigate parents' concerns at last week's roll back hearing.
Sharpe said parents have called his office inquiring about the changes, but he would not qualify the calls as complaints.
"I would never consider a phone call from a parent a complaint," he said. "I have received phone calls from parents asking who the driver was and any changes associated with that."
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