Student transportation to Newton’s alternative school Ombudsman is set to continue this upcoming school year, but with only one bus stop location and a bus monitor.
After much discussion, the Newton County Board of Education recommended that Newton County School System officials continue providing transportation to and from Ombudsman, but with only one drop-off and pick-up location for students riding the bus to attend the school.
The BOE’s recommendation came after Craig Lockhart, deputy superintendent of schools, presented a four-panel slide show detailing options for the BOE.
School officials have spent their last several meetings discussing whether transportation to and from the alternative school should be eliminated due to infractions on the school bus.
Transportation runs round-trip for all three Ombudsman sessions, picking up students for middle-school and high-school sessions several times a day.
There currently are four pick-up and drop-off bus stops for Ombudsman students — the old Walmart at U.S. Highway 278, which averages 0 to 2 students; the Jack Neely Road stop, which averages 10 to 15 students; the parking lot at Alcovy High School, which averages 0 to 2 students; and Denny Dobbs Park at Ga. Highway 212, which averages 1 to 5 students per pick-up. Lockhart said the averages are based on data from the past two years.
Previously, NCSS officials said the estimated annual operational costs for providing transportation for 43 Ombudsman students was $113,731.20. However, Lockhart said when factoring in benefits, the cost actually would be about $119,000.
Several options for providing Ombudsman transportation were presented to the BOE.
Lockhart said one option was to keep the routes the same and add a bus monitor with salary and benefits for $20,000, which would increase the Ombudsman operational transportation costs to about $139,000.
Another option he presented was to keep the Jack Neely stop — which usually is used by the most students — and eliminate the Alcovy, old Walmart and Denny Dobbs bus stops. Lockhart said this would give the school system a savings of about $56,250, because of the mileage saved. He said if the school system consolidated the bus stops into one stop at Jack Neely Road and added a bus monitor, the savings would be $36,250, with the salary and benefits for the bus monitor at $20,000.
Another option he presented, which has led to many discussions among BOE members, was to eliminate Ombudsman transportation.
“Very few, if any, (Ombudsman) centers in Georgia provide transportation to students,” Lockhart said. “In fact, Ombudsman states that part of the success of the Ombudsman platform is due to the fact that they are able to communicate with parents every day if necessary when they pick up and drop off their children.”
School officials have previously discussed having a school resource officer monitor behavioral problems related to Ombudsman transportation. However, Lockhart explained that in order to have a SRO, he/she would have to be dedicated to the stops because of the frequency of pick-ups and drop-offs, and that would cost the district about $50,000.
After discussions, the BOE decided to keep the one stop at Jack Neely Road and add a bus monitor.
In addition, BOE Chair Abigail Coggin requested that school officials present monthly reports of discipline problems over the next year so that board members can decide later if any more adjustments are warranted.
“We’re trying to be as fiscally responsible as we can,” Coggin said.
Michael Barr, director of support services for the NCSS, has previously discussed using extra funds from Ombudsman transportation to help with transporting special-needs students. BOE member Jeff Meadors asked if $36,250 of savings could assist in that department, which Barr agreed would help. Funding for Ombudsman transportation was already in the 2013-14 budget approved by the BOE at its June combined meeting.
Officials agreed to study Ombudsman transportation and bring it back up for discussion during the next budget year.