Making no promises they will approve a plan, the Richmond County Board of Education agreed Tuesday to start looking into the cost and feasibility of providing transportation to students attending the alternative program.
No buses currently run to the alternative school located off Baker Avenue downtown, and parents say many students, especially those living in south Augusta, are missing school entirely because they have no way of getting there.
“My son hasn’t been to school in two weeks, now going on three,” said Paula Sanders, who lives off Windsor Spring Road. “I lost my car in an accident. I can’t get him downtown, and he needs to be in school so it’s very stressful.”
Representatives from juvenile court asked the board on Tuesday to consider paying for buses because it could significantly impact the success of their effort to diminish juvenile crime in Augusta.
The court received a $250,000 state grant this summer that will pay for three therapists to do home therapy with about 20 at-risk youth and their families. Juvenile Court Judge Pamela James Doumar said the majority of these students will be attending the alternative program, and the children cannot be rehabilitated if they are not in school.
She said it costs the county $90,000 a year to detain one child, and helping them before they fall into delinquency could change their lives and save tax payers money.
“Education is their only hope,” Doumar said. “It is the only way they’re going to get out of this cycle, and we don’t want to deny in any way an education for these kids.”
With Jimmy Atkins casting the only no vote, the board directed Deputy Superintendent Tim Spivey to find out how much it would cost to run one or two buses to and from the alternative school.
Because students come from across the district and enter at varying times throughout the school year, Spivey said the initial plan would be to set up five or six depot stops throughout the district, instead of door-to-door pick up.
Students would have to find a way to various community centers, where a bus would then take them to the alternative school. Doumar said for a student living in south Augusta with no transportation, that would cut a 25-mile journey to school down to maybe a five-mile trek to the community center stop.
Doumar also said Department of Juvenile Justice staff will also meet students at the community centers before and after school and ride with them on the buses.
Spivey said he will present his findings at the next board meeting Jan. 14. If the board votes to pay for buses, the program would begin at the end of January.
Atkins said he voted against even exploring possibilities because any option would be too costly.
“The bottom line is it’s going to cost the system money to provide this service, and it’s something we just don’t have right now,” he said. “I don’t see supporting it next month.”
When the board last discussed providing buses for the alternative program in March, the idea was tossed before all could vote. Besides the money issue, board members said transportation is a privilege that is lost when a student is suspended and assigned to the alternative school.
Sherry Bradshaw said although the board is considering the idea, she was disappointed members didn’t take a stronger stance in supporting transportation. Without a car to drive her son to school, Bradshaw said she worries about his safety because he crosses Walton Way on his bike in the dark every morning.
She said the students are already stigmatized when they are assigned to the alternative school, and although they’ve made mistakes, she said the children need help.
“These kids haven’t killed nobody,” she said. “Why do they treat them like they have?”