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Bus service, alternative school changes on the table
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The Newton County Board of Education has several proposals on the table as it seeks to cut some $9 million in its budget for the 2011-2012 school year. Two cuts that could save the largest amount of money are shutting Sharp Learning Center in favor of a different alternative education and moving to a three-tier transportation program.

Sharp Learning Center vs. Ombudsman

 A public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Alcovy High School on the budget-cutting proposals. Here's a look at the alternative school and busing proposals.

 The school system could save $1,941,962 if it eliminates Sharp Learning Center and partners with a business called Ombudsman. The hope is that a different setting for an alternative education will do for Newton County students what it has for students in surrounding counties, which is increase the graduation rate and successfully move students back into their home school.

Ombudsman currently partners with 23 school districts in Georgia, with 46 centers throughout the state. If approved, there would be two centers opened in Newton County. According to statistics, 85 percent of the students referred to the program graduate. Sharp had 50 percent of their seniors graduate last year.

Students at Sharp also had a high failure rate in last year’s end-of-course and CRCT tests. In the end-of-course tests 93 percent of students failed in math I, 83 percent in math II, 91 percent in U.S. history, 53 percent in physical science and 58 percent in literature/comprehension. In CRCTs, sixth through eighth grade students at Sharp failed by 56 percent in math, 24 percent in reading and 93 percent failed their math retake tests.

With Ombudsman, students traditionally average over a year’s worth of academic growth in reading, math, language arts and writing. The organization offers state test preparation and intensive math and reading remediation. They also offer academic counseling and a self-paced curriculum, in three to four hour sessions (with three different start times) Monday through Friday.

Additionally, there were 97 students with five or more consecutive absences at Sharp last year, while

Ombudsman has an 89 percent average attendance rate. Also, Sharp requires security officers and Ombudsman does not.

Three-tier transportation

Switching to a three-tier transportation program would save the system $1,477,441, but it would also eliminate several positions, including 44 bus drivers, 25 substitute bus drivers and one mechanic. However, it would also save money by reducing the cost of fleet insurance and fuel consumption.

 With the proposed system, elementary, middle and high school students would all ride their own buses, whereas now, middle and high school students are bussed together. It would also have staggering start and stop times at the schools which would differ from what they now are.

 At elementary schools, students would be dropped off at 7:40 a.m. and picked up at 2:10 p.m., instead of dropped off at 7:15 a.m. for a school day that starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m. Middle and high school students currently arrive between 7:45 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. for a school day that starts at 8:30 a.m. Their days end at 3:30 p.m. and the buses head for homes at approximately 4:40 p.m. Under the new plan, middle school students would start school at 9 a.m. and end at 4:15 p.m., and high school would start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.

 The goals would be, along with saving over $1.4 million, that middle school students would have their own bus, ride time for middle and high school students would be reduced, it would improve student discipline, alternative school students would have their own bus, there would be adequate buses for ball games and field trips, it would create four transportation districts to improve customer service and communication and it would reduce or eliminate the doubling up of buses for driver absenteeism and/or bus breakdown, according to a report given to the board.

 It would also save $3,960,000 in future bus replacement costs by reducing the fleet by 44 buses since the estimated price per bus is approximately $90,000.