Kendrick critical of bus stops

Published 8:47 pm Friday, January 22, 2010

Board of Education Member Clarissa Kendrick took the unusual step Thursday of stepping off the board’s dais and then berating the board for its school bus stop practices.

During the public participation period of the monthly meeting of the board, the District 1 representative voiced her displeasure with how students are picked up by county school buses.

“I have relinquished my position for a few minutes to talk with the board about an issue in District One and partly in other districts,” Kendrick began.

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On three different occasions during January when the temperatures dropped to the low- to mid-20s, Kendrick drove the McCrayville community, near Attapulgus, to view the school children waiting at the designated bus stop.

“I am happy to say that the parents did a wonderful job letting the children sit in their cars while waiting on the bus. And I also let them sit in my car” to stay warm while waiting on the bus.

Kendrick then provided the historical perspective that led her to address the board as a citizen.

“From 1937 to 1945, African-Americans could not ride the bus. We had to walk in the cold weather to school. We started with 35 members in elementary school, but only three of the original group graduated in 1949,” Kendrick said.

“Thinking along that line and being apart of how those kids dropped out, we would like, as taxpayers, for each one of those children to be picked up and put on the bus,” Kendrick explained. “We want our children to catch the bus and go to school so they won’t drop out like they did in the years 1937-1949.”

Kendrick continued “I went to some groupings of children and its strange, but true, if you look at it from melting pot perspective, only word in the pot. It seems that these kids are being racially profiled, because there’s only one word in the pot.”

“We want this board to correct that, and if it can’t be corrected, we want documentation or confirmation on the reason why,” Kendrick concluded.

Measure was to save money

At the beginning of the 2008 school year, a child who normally would have been picked up at their front door was asked to walk up to a quarter mile if a school bus is going to pick him up and take him to school.

This shortening of routes was to save on fuel costs—and ultimately tax dollars.

This practice, discussed many times prior in previous board meetings, compelled Kendrick to address the board in a different manner typical of a member of said board.

State law says a child must be pick up within a half mile of his house, but Farrell Lawrence, director of transportation for the Board of Education, said Decatur County will pick up a child within a quarter mile from his house.

Superintendent Ralph Jones said that decisions, such as the reduction in school bus stops, made to control costs are because of the reduction in revenue, due to state funding decreases totaling $14 million since 2001.

“I can assure you these decisions aren’t based on whether you are white or black, green or yellow, male or female,” Jones said. “This board has had discussions over the past several years on exactly how to save money.”

Jones pointed to the fact that the system is working with 32 less full-time positions since last year and has taken further measures to live within the budget and revenue restrictions.

“Yes, we have reduced bus stops. Yes, it’s sometimes inconvenient and sometimes it’s cold. And let me say this, my position has been that if we have the rainy days or cold days, we will pick up the kids up,” Jones continued. “But if you want us to be productive and leave within our means, we can’t be everything to everybody.”

Jones indicated that when the reduction of bus stops was considered, the decisions were not made based on what section of the community the stops were in, but reductions in stops were made county wide.

At the time the policy was implemented in 2008 when fuel costs were high, the county wanted to shave off the mileage the buses traveled.

If one bus driver can save two miles a day off his route, that’s $11,314.28 the school board won’t have to spend on diesel for the 180-day school year. If they can shave off three miles a day, the savings add up to $16,471.42, Lawrence said.

Board Member Winston Rollins said that “while I know you can’t please everybody, I feel that in bad weather, we need to do what we can to make sure our children are taken care of. I know you can’t pick up everybody at their house, but I want to make sure we make the effort that everyone is safe.”

Jones again reiterated that the bus drivers have been directed to on the days with poor weather to pick the school children at their homes, rather than a common area.

Kendrick responded, “We want our children picked up. We pay our taxes, we need to get rid of what we need to get rid of for these children to get their education. We are becoming a dumb country.”